• 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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  • Copyright © 2005-2016 Please do not use any of my words or my personal photographs without my express permission.

A rare home schooling post: AP Government & Citizenship

As parents, we make choices for our kids when they are very young with — we hope, we believe — their best interests at heart. I made a decision for Laura shortly after her birth that she recently came to realize was not the right choice for her, and we’ve spent a good deal of time and money, along with a recent “field trip” to the nearest U.S. consulate to renounce U.S citizenship, so that Laura could correct that situation and bring her citizenship in line with her reality.

Laura, who is 18-1/2 and just graduated from high school, was born in Canada and is a Canadian by birth. She has never lived in the U.S. and never had a U.S. passport. But she was also — by accident of birth to a (then) U.S. citizen, who then (sigh) applied for a consular Report of a Birth Abroad — a dual citizen. Laura realized over the past year, after much study (her “curriculum” selections and recommended reading list are below) and reflection, that she is not a dual citizen but a Canadian, and a Canadian only, who has only ever lived in Canada, and who does not believe in divided national loyalties. And she wanted to begin adult life with as few impediments as possible. She had read that renouncing is easiest between the ages of 18 and 18-1/2, because the paperwork requirements are much simpler, so she started the process last year around the time of her birthday, and after submitting all of the required paperwork last November, was given an appointment for last week; that’s a wait of more than six months for the appointment and some locations, like Toronto, have even longer waits. At last week’s appointment, she was told the wait time to receive her official Certificate of Loss of Nationality, which will be dated with last week’s appointment date, will be four to six months. For 2013, there was a 221 percent increase, a record number, of dual American citizens renouncing or relinquishing their American citizenship. In 2015, there were approximately 4,300 expatriations.

The past several years have been basically an Advanced Placement course on U.S. government, politics and law, and citizenship, covering early American history (“no taxation without representation” is apparently a variable concept depending on time and place), constitutional law, patriotism, homeland vs. Homeland, just vs. unjust laws, citizenship-based taxation (U.S. and Eritrea) vs. residence-based taxation (the rest of the world), national sovereignty, personal vs. national privacy and security considerations, and what — or what should — determine citizenship (for example, jus sanguinis, “the right of blood”, or the acquisition of citizenship through parentage; or jus soli, “the right of soil”, or citizenship by virtue of being born in a particular territory. There were also discussions about being Canadian and living in Canada, but having U.S. officials consider everything about you, from your Canadian passport to your Canadian address to your Canadian father, “foreign” or “alien”, when to a Canadian they all mean “home”. It was probably as good a way as any for Laura to figure out what, and where, home is.

This is a very complex issue. I’ll try to write about this as simply as I can, because

  1. there’s a lot of information involved, which can be overwhelming and the temptation to avoid it all can be great;
  2. there’s a lot of misinformation (accidentally as well as on purpose) which, if you follow it, can make make your/your family’s situation worse rather than better, including those who would equate Americans abroad with tax cheats who need to brought into “compliance“;
  3. that misinformation and misunderstanding of the situation confuses many Americans living in the U.S. — including extended family and friends — who don’t understand that there might be very real disadvantages to living overseas with U.S. citizenship; who think Americans abroad concerned about this issue are a bunch of whining complainers and/or tax cheats who don’t want to pay our fair share.

Here’s some background about the situation in general, from the very, very good Isaac Brock Society blog (named for the British major general in the War of 1812 who was responsible for defending Upper Canada against the United States):

The United States is one of two countries in the world that taxes its people no matter where in the world they may reside. The other is Eritrea, which the USA has condemened for terrorism and for its diaspora tax. The majority of US persons who live abroad are not aware of their filing requirements. But recently, the US government has decided to crack down on those who are not in compliance.

But what is more, the US government has begun, since about 2004, to apply with great pressure a long-neglected requirement of 35-year old law called the Bank Secrecy Act. That requirement is FBAR, the foreign bank account report, which the United States government expects annually from those who have accounts outside of the United States which exceed $10,000 in aggregate. The fines for failure to file this form are extortionate, and virtually no US person who lives abroad even knew about FBAR, while most of them, over a certain age, own bank accounts with retirement savings exceeding that amount. The threats of fines and imprisonment has frightened many people who as a result have consulted expensive accountants and tax lawyers to get this mess sorted out, only to face high accounting or legal fees on top of potential fines and back taxes. In 2009 and 2011, the IRS offered voluntary disclosure programs (OVDI). Some who entered into the 2009 OVDI, because of fear of the penatlies, were shocked when the IRS assessed them fines in the tens of thousands, essentially treating them as tax evaders instead of a law abiding citizens in their countries of residence.

For many US expats, renunciation now seems like a really good idea. Why not? Many haven’t lived in the US for years and now they have few ties there except perhaps some family members. So they want to renounce their citizenship only to find that the laws regarding expatriation are confusing and that the exit tax requirements are at best complicated and invasive, and at worst, extortionate and utterly in violation of their right to expatriate.

The media coverage of this issue has been uneven. There have a been a few balanced stories, but most of the time, the media has merely publicized the purposes of the US government; this is especially true of US media sources. The Canadian media has generally done a much better job of grabbing the attention of the world about the abuses of the US government. That being said, even the Canadian media sometimes falls into the IRS trap of projecting fear in order to force compliance. Overall, we regret when the media offers only condemnation and fear without telling the story from the side of the victims or informing them of their rights and alternatives.

US persons abroad also face US border guards who are starting to put pressure on all those who have a US place of birth to travel only on a US passport, even if the person has not been a US person for decades–an arbitrary change of policy making those who relinquished citizenship into would-be loyal taxpayers to a profligate government that has to borrow 40 cents on every dollar its spends.

As with a number of bureaucratic decisions, there is a lot of noise about the intent to target “big fish” and tax cheats, and much of the recent legislation including FATCA seems intended as retribution for the decision by Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin but the reality is that it’s mostly little fish, with bank accounts and mortgages, and “foreign” spouses and children, who are getting caught in the net.

From Nancy L. Greene’s 2009 article, “Expatriation, Expatriates, and Expats: The American Transformation of a Concept”,

Expatriation was initially a form of nation-building. For the United States to justify its break from Britain, it had, among other things, to legitimate the notion of leaving one’s country of birth. Expatriation was thus seen as a form of inclusion in America, with former British subjects in mind. Like citizenship itself, expatriation was both a theoretical/rhetorical and a practical/legal issue for the early state. The Declaration of Independence, which complained that King George III had impeded the peopling of the colonies (“He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither”), was a declaration of the right of emigration. In the ensuing decades, in order to consolidate American independence and citizenship, expatriation from Britain had to be deemed a legal, indeed natural, right for both the state and the individual. The United States had to counter both politically and philosophically the competing British claim that birth- right or perpetual allegiance bound those born under the crown everlastingly to it. This essentially feudal notion, most forcefully expounded by the famous jurist Sir Edward Coke in 1608, regarded expatriation as a moral travesty and a legal im- possibility. It would take several decades for the new nation to impose its view that expatriation was in turn a natural right. The right of exit was the necessary corollary to a right of entry, and a Lockean notion of free will underwrote the definition of the new American citizen. …

The United States may have been founded on a notion of the right to leave, leading Albert O. Hirschman [the German-born economist and author of Exit, Voice, and Loyalty] to speak of a “national love affair with exit,” but attitudes about leave-takers depend on who is doing the exiting, from where, to where, and when.

* * * * * * * * *

A recommended reading list for dual citizens of all ages:

“The Negative Implications of U.S. Citizenship on Those Starting Out in Life”

“My Thoughts on U.S. Citizenship for Young People”

“Letter of a Canadian Businessman to his Dual U.S./Canada Citizen Son on the Occasion of his High School Graduation” (and all comments at the Isaac Brock Society blog are always well worth reading)

Isaac Brock Society blog, and particularly helpful posts from the Isaac Brock Society blog (don’t miss the conversations going on in the comments, which are always helpful):

“Introduction to FATCA for Canadians”

“How to Renounce/Relinquish” (FYI children born dual must renounce, not relinquish)

Introductory Material on: Citizenship-Based Taxation (vs. Residence-Based Taxation), FATCA; A Synopsis of John Richardson’s Info Session (see below for more); A History of Isaac Brock Society

IBS’s consulate report directory and CLN delivery time chart (aka “What to Expect, at the Consulate, When You’re Expatriating”); “currently 240 pages of first-hand accounts of renunciation/relinquishment appointments, arranged by consulate location, along with further information and links to the required Dept of State forms and the Dept of State manuals used by the consulates in processing CLN applications, with an appendix containing a chart of CLN delivery time as reported by consulate location.”

John Richardson’s Citizenship Solutions blog; Mr. Richardson, an American, is a Toronto lawyer who gives frequent, very good information sessions entitled “Information sessions: Solving the problems of U.S. citizenship”. And John himself is incredibly knowledgeable and helpful. He also writes for the Isaac Brock Society blog.

A new blog, The Dualist, an early 20-something born in the U.S. who left there at the age of 13 to live permanently in the UK, now dealing with

the options facing me – a UK citizen living, working and paying taxes in the United Kingdom – when I had just discovered that I am subject to US tax rules which say that no matter where I live, I should be annually filing federal income tax returns to the USA’s Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and reporting detailed information about all of my UK bank accounts to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network. These rules apply to me because I am an American as well as a British citizen. The US government considers me to be a US taxpayer not unlike an American living within the States, even if I haven’t lived in the US since I was a child, rarely visit, make no income in the US and have no assets there. The fact that I hadn’t been filing meant I was considered as a delinquent non-filer under US tax policy.

In outlining the different options I had for addressing this newly-discovered ‘delinquent non-filer’ status, I showed that even though I was a young person from a normal background just starting out in adult life, there were no easy solutions or certain outcomes. Briefly, the main options were to stay outside the system, enter the system and try to live compliantly, or enter the system with the intention of renouncing my US citizenship in the future.

American international tax lawyer Phil Hodgen’s blog posts about expatriation, including a recent 10-part series by an Irish-American 17-year-old who renounced as a minor, aka “The Expatriation Chronicles of an Accidental American”

San Francisco tax lawyer Robert Wood’s articles at Forbes, such as this one, this one, and this one

The difference between renouncing and relinquishing explained, at IBS and at Citizenship Solutions blog; children born dual can only renounce, not relinquish

One needs to be be very, very careful about the “help” one seeks with this issue because there are many predatory and ignorant accountants and lawyers whose help will net you only large bills and more rather than fewer headaches. There are good, knowledgeable, helpful people and resources available, often free or inexpensive, and this list includes a number of them. Read widely and ask questions before you make any decisions.

And, on the lighter side:

Michael Moore’s latest documentary, Where to Invade Next (2015)

Canadian Bacon, Michael Moore’s fictional precursor to his latest, starring the late, great, Canadian John Candy

Rick Mercer’s Talking to Americans, available on YouTube

 

* The fee for renouncing or for relinquishing is currently US $2,350, payable in cash or by credit card (which must be in the renunciant’s name). In September 2014, the U.S. State Department hiked the renunciation fee by 422 percent, from U.S. $450 to U.S. $2,350. The fee to relinquish in recent years went from 0 to $450 to, last year, $2,350. The current fee is more than 20 times the average of other high-income countries, and the U.S. government has collected about U.S. $12.6 million in fees since the Autumn 2014 fee hike.

Successful rhetoric, and a Godine garden of fresh possibilities and rediscoveries

Back in March, I wrote about a new book, Farnsworth’s Classical English Rhetoric by Ward Farnsworth, a professor at the Boston University School of Law, which had recently received a strong review in The Wall Street Journal.  As I wrote, “from everything I’ve read, it’s a very good and useful book indeed, especially for classical home schooling types who enjoy their grammar, logic, and rhetoric.”

Now comes a June 2 article from Publisher’s Weekly on the success of the book:

That a book on classical rhetoric could sell well enough to go into multiple printings even surprised its publisher, David Godine of the eponymous Boston-based [and independent] press, David R. Godine Publishers [which celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2010]. Initially, he doubted whether Farnsworth’s Classical English Rhetoric by Boston University School of Law professor Ward Farnsworth could sell out its first printing of 4,000 hardcovers. After all it’s filled with terms like litotes, avoiding making a claim directly; erotema, a question that doesn’t require an answer; and anaphora, repetition at the start. But since its late December release, the book has gone back to press twice for a total of 12,000 copies in print. It’s in the top 100 at Amazon for both Education and Reference, words and language.

“When I signed this thing I thought I was doing this guy a favor. And it turns out he’s doing me a favor,” says Godine, who was approached by Farnsworth to publish the book. Since then the press had one of its biggest sales days in its 41-year history for a single title for Farnsworth’s Classical English Rhetoric when Michael Dirda’s review ran in the Washington Post. “Should you buy Farnsworth’s Classical English Rhetoric?,” Dirda asked, unrhetorically. “If you’re at all interested in the techniques of writing, yes.”

Farnsworth, who became interested in rhetoric as a Latin student, has continued to study and teach rhetoric as part of his work as a law professor. The book is structured around repetition of words and phrases, structural matters, and dramatic devices. Each rhetorical terms within those areas is illustrated with examples from Shakespeare, Dickens, Paine, Churchill, Lincoln, and other writers and speakers. “We live in a time when most books about writing are largely about how to make prose simpler,” says Farnsworth. “I agree that simplicity is probably the most important virtue in a writer. But when you read speech and writing that has stood the test of time, you realize that its authors understood much more about their craft than the typical modern book on writing ever explains.”

While reviews continue to come in six months after its release, sales for Farnsworth’s Classical English Rhetoric got a kick start when the Wall Street Journal jumped pub date by a couple months and ran a review three days before Christmas. “The most immediate pleasure of this book is that it heightens one’s appreciation of the craft of great writers and speakers. . . . But more than anything Mr. Farnsworth wants to restore the reputation of rhetorical artistry per se, and the result is a handsome work of reference.” In addition, Farnsworth has appeared on several radio shows, including “The Hugh Hewitt Show” in Los Angeles. Godine hopes to keep sales rolling through father’s day for the dad who never got the classical education he wanted.

The Dirda review from last month’s WaPo is here.

*  *  *

Some other gems, new and old, from the David Godine catalogue:

:: For Canadians and northerners at heart, a very good and useful book for nature studies, Bright Stars, Dark Trees, Clear Water: Nature Writing from North of the Border, edited by Wayne Grady; featuring the words of John James Audubon, Henry Beston, John Burroughs, Gretel Ehrlich, Florence Page Jaques, Barry Lopez, Peter Matthiessen, Farley Mowat, John Muir, Grey Owl, Roger Tory Peterson, Ernest Thompson Seton, Henry David Thoreau, Catharine Par Traill, Walt Whitman.

:: DRG’s gorgeous children’s and young adult titles, including

Daniel Carter Beard’s books

The new Miss Etta and Dr. Claribel: Bringing Matisse to America by Susan Fillion

David Weitzman’s books: Rama and Sita: A Tale from Ancient Java, Superpower: The Making of a Steam LocomotiveThrashin’ Time: Harvest Days in the Dakotas  

Not to mention family favorites Mary Azarian, Edward Ardizzone, Ring of Bright WaterStudy Is Hard Work, and Swallows & Amazons

:: For adults and older readers:

The Superior Person’s Field Guide: to Deceitful, Deceptive & Downright Dangerous Language by Peter Bowler, illustrated by Leslie Cabarga; and other Bowler books

Noel Perrin, Noel Perrin, Noel Perrin

Henry Beston, Henry Beston, Henry Beston, Henry Beston

Will Cuppy

A Year with Emerson: A Daybook, selected & edited by Richard Grossman, with wood engravings by Barry Moser (psst — a steal of a deal in paperback for $10)

:: For foodies:

Elizabeth David

Bemelmans (beyond Madeline…)

The Kitchen Book & The Cook Book by Nicolas Freeling (beyond the murder mysteries…)

:: For music lovers:

Easy to Remember: The Great American Songwriters and Their Songs for Broadway Shows and Hollywood Musicals by William Zinsser

:: For gardeners and naturalists:

The Once & Future Gardener: Garden Writing from the Golden Age of Magazines, 1900-1940, edited by Virginia Tuttle Clayton

Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities!: Notes from a Gloucester Garden by Kim Smith

Songs to Birds by Jake Page, illustrated by Wesley Bates. From DRG’s description: “Jake Page is one of those rare and refreshing naturalists with a palpable gift for writing. Here he concentrates, more or less, on his favorite subjects: birds. And in these essays, they are presented in every stripe, the swaggering starlings, the querulous gulls, kingbirds, blackbirds, and crows. But birds only provide the skeletons upon which Page hangs the real meat of the pieces: how animals behave with each other, with us, and with the world at large. His real story is how life evolves and interacts, how ponds gradually support an ecosystem, how birds migrate, how animals communicate (even how toads copulate).  Page asks questions and gives answers with a marvelous wit and the curiosity of a humanist and the insight of a scientist. It is this combination of his scientific curiosity and his ability to express himself so stylishly that makes him a writer of such charming felicity. His is a mind of uncontrolled inquiry, one attuned to the natural (and often unnatural) world around him, a sensiblity that delights us with is intelligence and insight.”

:: For typography types 

And last but not least, the Words & Humor category, perhaps my favorite.

That should keep you busy.  I can’t mention, or even read, all the books, but maybe between us we can give it a good try!

The full impact

Pulitzer and Griffin prize-winning poet and essayist Charles Simic has a moving and thought-provoking blog post at the New York Review Blog this week, “A Country without Libraries”, from which:

All across the United States, large and small cities are closing public libraries or curtailing their hours of operations. Detroit, I read a few days ago, may close all of its branches and Denver half of its own: decisions that will undoubtedly put hundreds of its employees out of work. When you count the families all over this country who don’t have computers or can’t afford Internet connections and rely on the ones in libraries to look for jobs, the consequences will be even more dire. People everywhere are unhappy about these closings, and so are mayors making the hard decisions. But with roads and streets left in disrepair, teachers, policemen and firemen being laid off, and politicians in both parties pledging never to raise taxes, no matter what happens to our quality of life, the outlook is bleak. “The greatest nation on earth,” as we still call ourselves, no longer has the political will to arrest its visible and precipitous decline and save the institutions on which the workings of our democracy depend.

I don’t know of anything more disheartening than the sight of a shut down library. No matter how modest its building or its holdings, in many parts of this country a municipal library is often the only place where books in large number on every imaginable subject can be found, where both grownups and children are welcome to sit and read in peace, free of whatever distractions and aggravations await them outside. Like many other Americans of my generation, I owe much of my knowledge to thousands of books I withdrew from public libraries over a lifetime. I remember the sense of awe I felt as a teenager when I realized I could roam among the shelves, take down any book I wanted, examine it at my leisure at one of the library tables, and if it struck my fancy, bring it home. Not just some thriller or serious novel, but also big art books and recordings of everything from jazz to operas and symphonies.

How Simic’s library made him a more interesting, and interested, person:

In Oak Park, Illinois, when I was in high school, I went to the library two or three times a week, though in my classes I was a middling student. Even in wintertime, I’d walk the dozen blocks to the library, often in rain or snow, carrying a load of books and records to return, trembling with excitement and anticipation at all the tantalizing books that awaited me there. The kindness of the librarians, who, of course, all knew me well, was also an inducement. They were happy to see me read so many books, though I’m sure they must have wondered in private about my vast and mystifying range of interests.

I’d check out at the same time, for instance, a learned book about North American insects and bugs, a Louis-Ferdinand Céline novel, the poems of Hart Crane, an anthology of American short stories, a book about astronomy and recordings by Bix Beiderbecke and Sidney Bechet. I still can’t get over the generosity of the taxpayers of Oak Park. It’s not that I started out life being interested in everything; it was spending time in my local, extraordinarily well-stacked public library that made me so.

Simic on those who downplay the importance of libraries in our communities, our society:

I heard some politician say recently that closing libraries is no big deal, since the kids now have the Internet to do their reading and school work. It’s not the same thing. As any teacher who recalls the time when students still went to libraries and read books could tell him, study and reflection come more naturally to someone bent over a book. Seeing others, too, absorbed in their reading, holding up or pressing down on different-looking books, some intimidating in their appearance, others inviting, makes one a participant in one of the oldest and most noble human activities. Yes, reading books is a slow, time-consuming, and often tedious process. In comparison, surfing the Internet is a quick, distracting activity in which one searches for a specific subject, finds it, and then reads about it—often by skipping a great deal of material and absorbing only pertinent fragments. Books require patience, sustained attention to what is on the page, and frequent rest periods for reverie, so that the meaning of what we are reading settles in and makes its full impact.

How many book lovers among the young has the Internet produced? Far fewer, I suspect, than the millions libraries have turned out over the last hundred years. Their slow disappearance is a tragedy, not just for those impoverished towns and cities, but for everyone everywhere terrified at the thought of a country without libraries.

Read the entire post here. Read the NYRblog here, where you can find posts by everyone from Margaret Atwood, Diane Ravitch, and  Mary Beard to Harold Bloom, Michael Chabon, and Joseph Lelyveld.

Support your local library.  Visit often, with your children. Get library cards for the whole family, and use them. Join your Friends of the Library group to help with much-needed fundraising. Take boxes of chocolates and plates of homemade cookies to your librarian and the staff. Join your local library board.  Become volunteer or library page at your branch. Read deeply and widely. Imagine your town, city, or neighborhood without a library.

*  *  *

Earlier Farm School handwringings about libraries:

Those pesky outdated and inaccurate books

Ray Bradbury on libraries

The latest book buzz, or, For whom the bell tolls

A hub for home schoolers

In search of lasting import

Over on the right, in one of the sidebars (“Our Curricula/For the Parents”) ever since I started this blog about four years ago has been a link to Jane Healy’s book, Endangered Minds: Why Children Don’t Think And What We Can Do About It, first published in 1999. It was one of the first books I read after we decided, fairly abruptly, to begin home schooling, and it dovetailed neatly with our choice of a classical education.

As Dr. Healy wrote back in 1991 (here),

Fast-paced lifestyles, coupled with heavy media diets of visual immediacy, beget brains misfitted to traditional modes of academic learning. In a recent survey, teachers in both the United States and Europe reported overwhelmingly that today’s students have shorter attention spans, are less able to reason analytically, to express ideas verbally, and to attend to complex problems.

Recently, Dr. Healy’s ideas have been supported by Nicholas Carr, author of the infamous Atlantic article “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” and the new book arising out it, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains; and last month’s report from Duke that high speed internet and universal access to home computers “widen the achievement gap in math and reading scores”.  Worth noting that the study took place from 2000-2005, before MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter took off.

And in today’s New York Times came David Brooks’ column, ‘The Medium Is the Medium”, about a new study; from the column,

Researchers gave 852 disadvantaged students 12 books (of their own choosing) to take home at the end of the school year. They did this for three successive years.

Then the researchers, led by Richard Allington of the University of Tennessee, looked at those students’ test scores. They found that the students who brought the books home had significantly higher reading scores than other students. These students were less affected by the “summer slide” — the decline that especially afflicts lower-income students during the vacation months. In fact, just having those 12 books seemed to have as much positive effect as attending summer school.

…there was one interesting observation made by a philanthropist who gives books to disadvantaged kids. It’s not the physical presence of the books that produces the biggest impact, she suggested. It’s the change in the way the students see themselves as they build a home library. They see themselves as readers, as members of a different group.

As Brooks writes, emphases mine,

The Internet-versus-books debate is conducted on the supposition that the medium is the message. But sometimes the medium is just the medium. What matters is the way people think about themselves while engaged in the two activities. A person who becomes a citizen of the literary world enters a hierarchical universe. There are classic works of literature at the top and beach reading at the bottom.

A person enters this world as a novice, and slowly studies the works of great writers and scholars. Readers immerse themselves in deep, alternative worlds and hope to gain some lasting wisdom. Respect is paid to the writers who transmit that wisdom.

A citizen of the Internet has a very different experience. The Internet smashes hierarchy and is not marked by deference. Maybe it would be different if it had been invented in Victorian England, but Internet culture is set in contemporary America. Internet culture is egalitarian. The young are more accomplished than the old. The new media is supposedly savvier than the old media. The dominant activity is free-wheeling, disrespectful, antiauthority disputation.

And more, emphases still mine,

These different cultures foster different types of learning. The great essayist Joseph Epstein once distinguished between being well informed, being hip and being cultivated. The Internet helps you become well informed — knowledgeable about current events, the latest controversies and important trends. The Internet also helps you become hip — to learn about what’s going on, as Epstein writes, “in those lively waters outside the boring mainstream.”

But the literary world is still better at helping you become cultivated, mastering significant things of lasting import. To learn these sorts of things, you have to defer to greater minds than your own. You have to take the time to immerse yourself in a great writer’s world. You have to respect the authority of the teacher.

Right now, the literary world is better at encouraging this kind of identity. The Internet culture may produce better conversationalists, but the literary culture still produces better students.

It’s better at distinguishing the important from the unimportant, and making the important more prestigious.

Perhaps that will change. Already, more “old-fashioned” outposts are opening up across the Web. It could be that the real debate will not be books versus the Internet but how to build an Internet counterculture that will better attract people to serious learning.

I’d tell you to read the rest, but I’ve included pretty much the entire piece above because I think David Brooks wrote such an important essay that supports what so many of us are trying to do with a classical education. There will always be two camps on this — witness one of the column comments that a friend’s son improved his reading by playing World of Warcraft — and neither side will be much convinced of the other’s merit, but I’m happy to be in the Brooks camp.

Trading up

Another article from a few days ago (I’m on a roll…):

Carol Morello of The Washington Post reports that “a small but apparently growing number of the college-educated who are taking up the trades”:

Armed with a bachelor’s degree in theology from Notre Dame, Adam Osielski was pondering a route well traveled: law school.

He watched his friends work long hours as paralegals while studying law and weighed the all-encompassing commitment. That was five years ago. Today, Osielski, 29, is a journeyman electrician rather than a law firm associate. Or, as Osielski might say with his minor in French, an électricien.

In a region in which 47 percent of Washington area residents have a college degree, the highest rate in the nation, Osielski is among a small but apparently growing number of the college-educated who are taking up the trades.

They started out studying aerospace engineering, creative writing and urban planning. But somewhere on the path to accumulating academic credentials, they decided that working with their hands sounded more pleasant — and lucrative — than a lot of white-collar work. So bye-bye to term papers and graduate theses, and hello to apprenticeships to become plumbers, electricians, auto mechanics and carpenters.

For Osielski, the attraction was natural. After graduating from Notre Dame, he spent two years in Haiti working with a charity building schools, but he wasn’t allowed to do the one task that seemed most intriguing: wiring the electricity.

When he returned from Haiti, he began working as a furniture mover in the District to pay the bills and discovered the satisfaction that comes with an empty truck at the end of a day. A legal career seemed too much like drudgery.

“I have friends my age who are just deciding to go to graduate school,” said Osielski, who graduated this month from an apprenticeship program run by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 26 in Lanham. “I’m glad to be already working and developing a career.”

Why the trend toward the trades?

Economists and labor scholars say the rocky economy has been a boon for trade schools. But they also point to policymakers, guidance counselors and parents who don’t value the trades and overvalue college as the gateway to success. As a result, American students come to trade apprenticeships relatively late, often after they’ve already tried college. The average age of the beginning apprentice in the United States is 25; in Germany, 18.

“It’s hard to get high school counselors to point anyone but their not-very-good students, or the ones in trouble, toward construction,” said Dale Belman, a labor economist at Michigan State University. “Counselors want everyone to go to college. So now we’re getting more of the college-educated going into the trades.”

This I found quite interesting but not surprising, having graduated from Middlebury with a BA in history and married a farmer and carpenter:

In the early 1970s, Robert Glover, an economics professor at the University of Texas, studied apprenticeship programs in nine cities. He found that 27 percent of journeymen in six construction trades had at least 13 years of schooling. Among the tradesmen he interviewed was an electrician with a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering and a bricklayer who was listening to classical music on the radio.

“It woke me up,” he said. “There is a strong anti-manual-work bias in this country. I fell prey to it, too.”

So too did Brian Jones, who is 30 and studied physics in college hoping to work as a NASA engineer. Unable to find a job in his chosen feel, he opted for work as an electrician: “It’s not the same as a job with, say, Lockheed, with a lot of office politics,” he said. “In the electrical trade, your knowledge and actions speak for themselves. The only downside is the prestige. If you say you work for a multinational, half-trillion-dollar company, versus, ‘I’m an electrician,’ it doesn’t have the same ring.”

It’s all about options and choices…

*  *  *  *

Related Farm School posts:

Moving in a common rhythm; from which one of my favorite Andy Rooney quotes, from his 2000 commencement address at the University of Virginia, “Don’t rule out working with your hands. It does not preclude using your head. There’s no reason why education should be incompatible with craftsmanship.”

Carriers of arts, letters, and dumplings

Carriers of arts, and letters

Craftsmanship

Hands

Tonic and toast

Further thoughts on self-esteem and self-confidence

All roads lead to home and hard work

More thoughts on independence and freedom

Carriers of arts, letters, and dumplings

I had a post yesterday on Rebecca Mead’s current New Yorker essay, “Learning by Degrees”, on the purpose of education, which I agree with her should not be to “compete in the global economy”, as our politicians like to natter on about, but as Ms. Mead wrote, to “nurture critical thought; to expose individuals to the signal accomplishments of humankind; to develop in them an ability not just to listen actively but to respond intelligently.”

So I was interested last night to read in yesterday’s New York Times Wednesday food section the article, “Their Future, Made By Hand” about a new twist in the road for “young, college-educated, Internet-savvy, and unemployed” New Yorkers who now find themselves at “the intersection of the economic downturn and the rise of the local artisanal food movement”, leading to “the recent flowering of small culinary start-ups” and food entrepreneurs:

As the next generation of cooks comes of age, it seems that many might bypass restaurant kitchens [and possibly college…] altogether. Instead, they see themselves driving trucks full of artisanal cheese around the country, founding organic breweries, bartering vegan pâtés for grass-fed local beef, or (most often) making it big in baking as the next Magnolia Bakery.

That “ability not just to listen actively but to respond intelligently”, learned in high school or in college (if not afterwards for many of us), can come in very, very handy. Keep your mind and your options open, and your future might well be delicious.  Read the rest of the Times article here. (And while you’re at it, go get the recipe for 1989 Rhubarb-Strawberry Mousse.  Yummy.)

Related Farm School posts:

Moving in a common rhythm; from which one of my favorite Andy Rooney quotes, from his 2000 commencement address at the University of Virginia, “Don’t rule out working with your hands. It does not preclude using your head. There’s no reason why education should be incompatible with craftsmanship.”

Craftsmanship

Hands

Tonic and toast

Further thoughts on self-esteem and self-confidence

All roads lead to home and hard work

More thoughts on independence and freedom

Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World

The above is the title of the 2009 CBC Massey Lectures, given last month by Canadian anthropologist and ethnobotanist Wade Davis, and now in book form too, as The Wayfinders: Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World. Dr. Davis is currently a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence. The lectures begin their airing on CBC Radio tonight, on the program “Ideas” with episode/lecture one, “Season of the Brown Hyena”.

From the first lecture:

One of the intense pleasures of travel is the opportunity to live amongst peoples who have not forgotten the old ways, who still feel their past in the wind, touch it in stones polished by rain, taste it in the bitter leaves of plants. Just to know that, in the Amazon, the Jaguar shaman still journey beyond the Milky Way, that the myths of the Inuit elders still resonate with meaning, that the Buddhists in Tibet still pursue the breath of the Dharma is to remember the central revelation of anthropology: the idea that the social world in which we live does not exist in some absolute sense, but rather is simply one model of reality, the consequence of one set of intellectual and spiritual choices that our particular cultural lineage made, however successfully, many generations ago.

*  *  *  *

Episode/Lecture Two, “The Wayfarers”, airing November 4, 2009

Episode/Lecture Three, “Peoples of the Anaconda”, airing November 5, 2009

Episode/Lecture Four, “Sacred Geography”, airing November 6, 2009

Episode/Lecture Five, “Century of the Wind”, airing November 7, 2009

According to the “Ideas” website, audio files will be posted the day after each broadcast.

Wade Davis at TED Talks

A few of the many other books by Wade Davis:

The Clouded Leopard: A Book of Travels (having just seen a clouded leopard for the very first time, at the National Zoo in Washington, I’m looking forward to reading this)

Book of Peoples of the World: A Guide to Cultures, edited by Wade Davis and K. David Harrison (National Geographic, 2008)

The Lost Amazon: The Photographic Journey of Richard Evans Schultes

 

A perfect school for learning

Last Thursday, Tom’s already unreliable helper — the Alberta advantage continues in the face of the recession — failed to show up for the first day of a big reshingling job.  All of the shingles needed to be removed and the roof tarped, and it was hot (31 Celsius) so moving quickly with several pairs of hands was much better than moving slowly with only one.  So I suggested he take the boys along, since we’re done with school for the summer.   The three of them worked long days, until seven pm or so, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and then Monday with Laura along to make sure the job got finished by the end of the day. Tuesday, the boys begged to go along for Tom’s new project — renovating two bathrooms, which included the demolition of walls, which couldn’t be any more fun if you’re eight-and-a-half and ten years old and are smashing down drywall with hammers and wrecking bars.  And under Tom’s supervision and tutelage, the boys finally got to use the air nailer.  They’re very pleased and proud of themselves.

I was in town by myself yesterday and Tuesday, and at every stop at least one person asked, “Where are the kids?”  Each time I explained that Laura was home (yesterday she took her bicycle off to the corrals and with newborn kittens in her lap wrote her 4H essay) and the boys were working with Tom.  Twice I was asked, “Are they old enough already?”  I was torn between replying “Old enough for what?” and mentioning that our junior apprenticeship program started a long time ago.  The kids have been going off to work with their father, and doing farm chores with both of us, since they were old enough to walk.  When I was pregnant with Daniel, Tom took Laura, who was not quite a year-and-a-half old, to work where he was building a new house.  She would help him by passing tools to him, and kept busy for hours at a time hammering nails into a large styrofoam block.  When Daniel was six months old and Laura two years old, we took off for Toronto so Tom could help his sister and her husband build a  new garage.  Laura had no interest in spending her time in the house with her baby brother and newborn cousin when she could be outdoors helping her father, which she did, much to the consternation of her uncle who wasn’t used to useful and capable young children.  Really, the question shouldn’t be, “Are they old enough?” but “Are they able enough?” And the answer is yes.

It was last night while the boys were enjoying a well-deserved sleep after a hard day’s work at their father’s side that I read Holly Robinson‘s heart-breaking story of her sixth grade son’s experiences in his Massachusetts public school, with school as “a necessary evil instead of an inspiration”.  I want to write to her and say “break the rules”, or “send him to us, sight unseen, for a summer at the farm”.  Here’s some of the article, at The Huffington Post, including the beginning of the article which I confess confuses me:

A couple of weeks ago, I was volunteering at my son Aidan’s elementary school after hours. The building was empty but for a knot of teachers clustered in the hallway. As we entered his classroom, Aidan leaped up to touch the door frame. Immediately, one of the teachers scolded him about safety.

Aidan apologized. As soon as we were alone, though, he rolled his eyes at me. “Teachers don’t like boys, Mom. If I was a girl, she never would have said anything.”

“They’re just trying to keep you safe,” I said.

Aidan is in sixth grade, no doubt old enough to be safe no matter how he leaps or touches a door frame, no? Also confusing, and just plain misguided on the part of the teachers, who seem to have little understanding of classroom management and the nature of children in general and boys in particular,

Aidan earns A’s and B’s in school, yet I’m constantly fighting battles like this one: When he misbehaves, his teachers take away recess. Please. Are they out of their Vulcan minds?

The less confusing, more heart-breaking part:

Now that Aidan, the youngest of our five children, is in sixth grade, I have little hope that the system will change. Our public school curriculum in Massachusetts, as in so many states, is designed to help students conquer basic skills and prepare for the state-administered MCAS exam. Not a bad goal. Just one problem: our teachers now scramble to teach to the tests. This means lots of worksheets get handed out and there’s little time left for creative, hands-on projects.

This is a tragedy, especially for boys. Research tells us what most parents know: boys are apt to be “kinesthetic learners.” That’s educatorspeak for the fact that most boys learn best while they’re in motion. Boys want to get their feet wet and their hands dirty. They want to build things and take them apart, trap small animals and climb tall trees. Or jump up and touch whatever they can.

As Aidan observed once, after spending an entire science class watching a movie about the life cycle of frogs, “We’d learn a lot more if the teacher just brought tadpoles and frogs into the classroom and we could look at them.”

“Send him to us.” Or let him go pond dipping near home, if possible.

Ms. Robinson writes,

But I can’t help seeing school as a necessary evil instead of an inspiration. It’s great that Aidan has learned how to do algebra, read a map, write an essay and navigate social situations without a black eye. Outside of school, though, is where Aidan does most of his real learning. He pursues his interests with passion: rock climbing, coin collecting, fishing, engineering, snowboarding. Our house is one big science lab; in recent months Aidan has built a hovercraft in the driveway, figured out that you could shrink potato chip bags in the microwave oven, and erected a K’nex roller coaster taller than he is. He has memorized the periodic table and taken apart an old computer. He surprised me in the kitchen by saying, “Here’s a cool invention for kids, Mom,” and pushing a cup of milk onto the ice dispenser of our freezer. Instead of dispensing ice, cereal came pouring out of the freezer and fell into his cup of milk. Messy, but way cool.

What would a perfect school for boys be like? Classes would be small and held outside half the time. Boys of all abilities and temperaments would build, paint, draw, take things apart, play computer games and listen to music while reading if they felt like it. If they wanted to write about volcanoes instead of the weather, or study the Civil War in January instead of September, why not let them choose? And, if they wanted to do math standing up or run a few laps between exams, why not?

Oh, wait. Our boys couldn’t do that. That would be breaking the rules.

Yes, break the rules.  Perfect.

Thomas Berry, 1914-2009: Losing, and finding, the universe

Thomas Berry, the writer and environmentalist who considered himself a “geologian” —  “a historian of the Earth and its evolutionary processes” — died earlier this week at the age of 94.

There are biographies of Dr. Berry at his foundation’s website, here and here.  There are obituaries in The New York Times and in the National Catholic Reporter, which noted,

Fr. Thomas Berry, described in Newsweek magazine in 1989 as “the most provocative figure among the new breed of eco-theologians,” was among the first to say the earth crisis is fundamentally a spiritual crisis. His diagnosis of the negative effects of our religious views on our treatment of the planet rang true for many who were willing and able to work for a cure. Many created their own earth ministries, inspired by the work and life of Fr. Thomas Berry.

An excerpt from Dr. Berry’s book The Great Work: Our Way into the Future (emphases mine):

I was a young person then, some twelve years old. My family was moving from a more settled part of a Southern town out to the edge of town where the new house was still being built. The house, not yet finished, was situated on a slight incline. Down below was a small creek and there across the creek was a meadow. It was an early afternoon in May when I first looked down over the scene and saw the meadow. The field was covered with lilies rising above the thick grass. A magic moment, this experience gave to my life something, I know not what, that seems to explain my life at a more profound level than almost any other experience I can remember.

It was not only the lilies. It was the singing of the crickets and the woodlands in the distance and the clouds in an otherwise clear sky. It was not something conscious that happened just then. I went on about my life as any young person might do. Perhaps it was not simply this moment that made such a deep impression upon me. Perhaps it was a sensitivity that was developed throughout my childhood. Yet, as the years pass, this moment returns to me, and whenever I think about my basic life attitude and the whole trend of my mind and the causes that I have given my efforts to, I seem to come back to this moment and the impact it has had on my feeling for what is real and worthwhile in life. …

It seems to me we all had such experiences before we entered into an industrial way of life. The universe as manifestation of some primordial grandeur was recognized as the ultimate referent in any human understanding of the wonderful yet fearsome world about us. Every being achieved its full identity by its alignment with the universe itself. With indigenous peoples of the North American continent every formal activity was first situated in relation to the six directions of the universe: the four cardinal directions combined with the heavens above and Earth below. Only thus could any human activity be fully validated.

The universe was the world of meaning in these earlier times, the basic referent in social order, in economic survival, in the healing of illness. In that wide ambiance the muses dwelled whence came the inspiration of poetry and art and music. The drum, heartbeat of the universe itself, established the rhythm of dance whereby humans entered into the very movement of the natural world. The numinous dimension of the universe impressed itself upon the mind through the vastness of the heavens and the power revealed in thunder and lightning, as well as through springtime renewal of life after the desolation of winter. Then, too, the general helplessness of the human before all the threats to survival revealed the intimate dependence of the human on the integral functioning of things. That the human had such intimate rapport with the surrounding universe was possible only because the universe itself had a prior intimate rapport with the human.

This experience we observe even now in the indigenous peoples of the world. They live in a universe, in a cosmological order, whereas we, the peoples of the industrial world, no longer live in a universe. We live in a political world, a nation, a business world, an economic order, a cultural tradition, in Disneyworld. We live in cities, in a world of concrete and steel, of wheels and wires, a world of business, of work. We no longer see the stars at night or the planets or the moon. Even in the day we do not experience the sun in any immediate or meaningful manner. Summer and winter are the same inside the mall. Ours is a world of highways, parking lots, shopping centers. We read books written with a strangely contrived alphabet. We no longer read the book of the universe.

Nor do we coordinate our world of human meaning with the meaning of our surroundings. We have disengaged from that profound interaction with our environment inherent in our very nature. Our children do not learn how to read the Great Book of Nature or how to interact creatively with the seasonal transformations of the planet. They seldom learn where their water comes from or where it goes. We no longer coordinate our human celebration with the great liturgy of the heavens.

We have indeed become strange beings so completely are we at odds with the planet that brought us into being. We dedicate enormous talent and knowledge and research to developing a human order disengaged from and even predatory on the very sources whence we came and upon which we depend at every moment of our existence. We initiate our children into an economic order based on exploitation of the natural life systems of the planet. To achieve this perspective we must first make them autistic in their relation with the natural world about them. This disconnection occurs quite simply since we ourselves have become insensitive toward the natural world and do not realize just what we are doing. Yet, if we observe our children closely in their early years and see how they are instinctively attracted to the experiences of the natural world about them, we will see how disorientated they become in the mechanistic and even toxic environment that we provide for them.

To recover an integral relation with the universe, planet Earth, and North America needs to be a primary concern for the peoples of this continent. While a new alignment of our government and all our institutions and professions with the continent itself in its deep structure and functioning cannot be achieved immediately, a beginning can be made throughout our educational programs. Especially in the earlier grades of elementary school new developments are possible. Such was the thought of Maria Montessori in the third decade of this century.

In speaking about the education of the six-year-old child, Maria notes in her book To Educate the Human Potential that only when the child is able to identify its own center with the center of the universe does education really begin. For the universe, she says, “is an imposing reality.” It is “an answer to all questions.” “We shall walk together on this path of life, for all things are part of the universe, and are connected with each other to form one whole unity.” This it is that enables “the mind of the child to become centered, to stop wandering in an aimless quest for knowledge.” Then the writer mentions how this experience of the universe creates in the child admiration and wonder and enables the child to unify its thinking. In this manner the child learns how all things are related and how the relationship of things to each other is so close that “No matter what we touch, an atom or a cell, we cannot explain it without knowledge of the wide universe.”

The difficulty is that with the rise of the modern sciences we began to think of the universe as a collection of objects rather than a communion of subjects. We frequently identify the loss of the interior spirit-world of the human mind and emotions with the rise of modern mechanistic sciences. The more significant thing, however, is that we have lost the universe itself. We achieved extensive control over the mechanistic and even the biological functioning of the natural world, but this control itself has produced deadly consequences. We have not only controlled the planet in much of its basic functioning; we have, to an extensive degree, extinguished the life systems themselves. We have silenced so many of those wonderful voices of the universe that once spoke to us of the grand mysteries of existence.

We no longer hear the voices of the rivers or the mountains, or the voices of the sea. The trees and meadows are no longer intimate modes of spirit presence. Everything about us has become an “it” rather than a “thou.” We continue to make music, write poetry, and do our painting and sculpture and architecture, but these activities easily become an aesthetic expression simply of the human and in time lose the intimacy and radiance and awesome qualities of the universe itself. We have, in the accepted universe of these times, little capacity for participating in mysteries celebrated in the earlier literary and artistic and religious modes of expression. For we could no longer live in the universe in which these were written. We could only look on, as it were.

Read the rest here.

A partial Berry bibliography:

The Great Work: Our Way into the Future

The Dream of the Earth

Evening Thoughts: Reflecting on Earth as Sacred Community

The Universe Story: From the Primordial Flaring Forth to the Ecozoic Era, A Celebration of the Unfolding of the Cosmos, with physicist and mathematical cosmologist Brian Swimme

The Sacred Universe: Earth, Spirituality, and Religion in the Twenty-first Century by Thomas Berry, edited and with a foreword by Mary Evelyn Tucker (Columbia University Press, August 2009)

Some Berry links:

An 2006 interview with Father Berry: “I did walk in the woods a great deal when I was a child. Already, the woods and nature were the most important things in my life. By the time I was ten or eleven years old, I had a feeling that something was wrong. I didn’t, of course, have the least idea of what this was all about, but I grew up with the feeling that I couldn’t trust the developing industrial world in which I was living.”

A 2002 interview originally published in The Sun Magazine: “Much of the Bible is concerned with how humans should relate to God, and to one another. What’s gotten lost is our intimate relationship with the natural world. Our theology is highly developed, and our anthropology — our study of each other — is highly developed, but our so-called life sciences are still trying to figure out how nature works in order to control it.”

Moving in a common rhythm

“Don’t rule out working with your hands. It does not preclude using your head. There’s no reason why education should be incompatible with craftsmanship.”
Andy Rooney in his 2000 commencement address at the University of Virginia

Part of the reason I haven’t blogged since May 7th is that we’ve been working with our hands — looking after new baby chicks, tending our new Painted Lady butterfly caterpillars (now happily hanging from the top of their tank), planting and watering our 645 new shelterbelt trees, caring for the 4H calves which will be shown next weekend, seeding the barley crop, and planting the flower and vegetable gardens.

When I stopped this afternoon for a quick sandwich before heading back to the garden (and later tonight we have the second performance of Tom’s and the kids’ play in town), I quickly read through some New York Times headlines, and clicked on the new NYT Magazine article, “The Case for Working with Your Hands” by Matthew B. Crawford, from which:

High-school shop-class programs were widely dismantled in the 1990s as educators prepared students to become “knowledge workers.” The imperative of the last 20 years to round up every warm body and send it to college, then to the cubicle, was tied to a vision of the future in which we somehow take leave of material reality and glide about in a pure information economy. This has not come to pass. To begin with, such work often feels more enervating than gliding. More fundamentally, now as ever, somebody has to actually do things: fix our cars, unclog our toilets, build our houses.

When we praise people who do work that is straightforwardly useful, the praise often betrays an assumption that they had no other options. We idealize them as the salt of the earth and emphasize the sacrifice for others their work may entail. Such sacrifice does indeed occur — the hazards faced by a lineman restoring power during a storm come to mind. But what if such work answers as well to a basic human need of the one who does it? I take this to be the suggestion of Marge Piercy’s poem “To Be of Use,” which concludes with the lines “the pitcher longs for water to carry/and a person for work that is real.” Beneath our gratitude for the lineman may rest envy.

As someone who, with a BA from small liberal arts college in New England who strayed far, far from the norm to marry a carpenter and farmer, and whose two sons have said they want to follow more or less in their father’s footsteps, I was interested to read this bit,

A gifted young person who chooses to become a mechanic rather than to accumulate academic credentials is viewed as eccentric, if not self-destructive. There is a pervasive anxiety among parents that there is only one track to success for their children. It runs through a series of gates controlled by prestigious institutions. Further, there is wide use of drugs to medicate boys, especially, against their natural tendency toward action, the better to “keep things on track.” I taught briefly in a public high school and would have loved to have set up a Ritalin fogger in my classroom. It is a rare person, male or female, who is naturally inclined to sit still for 17 years in school, and then indefinitely at work.

The trades suffer from low prestige, and I believe this is based on a simple mistake. Because the work is dirty, many people assume it is also stupid. This is not my experience. I have a small business as a motorcycle mechanic in Richmond, Va., which I started in 2002. I work on Japanese and European motorcycles, mostly older bikes with some “vintage” cachet that makes people willing to spend money on them. I have found the satisfactions of the work to be very much bound up with the intellectual challenges it presents. And yet my decision to go into this line of work is a choice that seems to perplex many people.

Read the rest of Matthew Crawford’s article here.  By the way, Mr. Crawford’s book, Shop Craft as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work, will be published on Thursday by Penguin.

I keep meaning to post about one of my favorite blogs, and this is the perfect time to correct that oversight, especially because the blogger is quoted in the article. Woodworker and teacher Doug Stowe’s blog, Wisdom of the Hands, is a gem; as Mr. Stowe writes, his blog is

dedicated to sharing the concept that our hands are essential to learning — that we engage the world and its wonders, sensing and creating primarily through the agency of our hands. We abandon our children to education in boredom and intellectual escapism by failing to engage their hands in learning and making.

Be sure to read Mr. Stowe’ post on The Times article.

Since I haven’t posted anything for Poetry Friday in more than a month, I’ll leave you with some of Marge Piercy’s To Be of Use, which you can find in its entirety here:

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.

I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who stand in the line and haul in their places,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.

Related Farm School posts:

Craftsmanship

Hands

Tonic and toast

Further thoughts on self-esteem and self-confidence

All roads lead to home and hard work

More thoughts on independence and freedom

(Back to work. With my hands.)

“I’ve got a song to sing, all over this land”

Happy Birthday, Pete Seeger.

If you’re in New York City today, you can swing by Madison Square Garden and help celebrate his 90th birthday.

Pete Seeger has been presence in my life since childhood with his records, and I still recall one marvelous autumn day when we got to meet him and listen to him sing at South Street Seaport (I think I remember a pier covered with pumpkins, and while I don’t remember the sloop Clearwater think it must have been there as well), well before it was fixed up and turned into a “destination”. We were also fortunate to live down the street from Pete Seeger’s old friend, Brother Kirk (the Rev. Frederick Douglass Kirkpatrick, who died in 1987), who would sit on the sidewalk with his guitar and give impromptu sidewalk concerts. Together the friends collaborated on a 1974 children’s album, “Pete Seeger & Brother Kirk Visit Sesame Street”.

As fascinating as Pete Seeger’s life story and career is his family.  He is the son the musicologist and composer of Charles Seeger and violinist Constance Edson; his stepmother was the noted composer Ruth Crawford Seeger;  his uncle Alan Seeger was the celebrated poet killed in World War I; his eldest brother Charles was a pioneering radio astronomer; his brother John, a longtime teacher at New York’s Dalton School also founded Camp Killoleet in the Adirondacks; his half-sister is the singer Peggy Seeger; his half-brother is singer Mike Seeger.

No childhood should be complete without Pete Seeger — for the music he has sung and written, his family’s place in the history of American music, for his sense of history, and his environmental and political activism.  You can listen to his music and listen to songs about America as it was, and America — and the world —  as it should be. Here’s a list, not nearly complete or comprehensive, of some of our favorite Pete Seeger records, books, and more.

Music especially for children:

“Abiyoyo and Other Story Songs for Children”

“American Folk, Game and Activity Songs”

“Birds, Beasts, Bugs and Fishes (Little and Big)”

“Folk Songs for Young People”

“Song and Play Time”

Pete Seeger’s “Children’s Concert at Town Hall”

Music for the entire family:

“American Favorite Ballads”, on five CDs

“Frontier Ballads”

“Headlines and Footnotes: A Collection of Topical Songs”

“If I Had a Hammer: Songs of Hope and Struggle”

“Love Songs for Friends and Foes”

“Pete Seeger Sings Leadbelly”

“Sing Out!: Hootenanny with Pete Seeger and the Hooteneers”

“Traditional Christmas Carols”

Pete Seeger/The Weavers 3 CD box set

“Pete Seeger at 89”

A Pete Seeger discography at Smithsonian Folkways.  By the way, SF has a new publication, “Folkways Magazine”, just debuted with the Spring 2009 issue, and the main article is “Pete Seeger: Standing Tall”

A Pete Seeger discography and biography at Appleseed Records

Books (many of which are children’s picture books based on his songs):

Abiyoyo with accompanying CD; and Abiyoyo Returns

Turn! Turn! Turn! with accompanying CD

One Grain of Sand: A Lullaby

Where Have All the Flowers Gone?: A Musical Autobiography

Pete Seeger’s Storytelling Book

His memoirs, Where Have All the Flowers Gone: A Singer’s Stories, Songs, Seeds, Robberies

The biography How Can I Keep from Singing?: The Ballad of Pete Seeger by David King Dunaway, the companion volume to the radio series produced by Dunaway (see below)

Audio and Video:

PBS’s American Masters episode: “Pete Seeger: The Power of Song”; now available on DVD

How Can I Keep from Singing?, the three-part radio series produced by David King Dunaway

“To Hear Your Banjo Play” (1947)

“How to Play the 5-String Banjo” DVD, Davy’s favorite; there’s also an accompanying book (not on film, but also instructive and instructional is Pete Seeger’s “The Folksinger’s Guitar Guide”)

At NPR; and today’s NPR appreciation, “Pete Seeger At 90” by Lynn Neary and Tom Cole.  At the latter link, you’ll find a little orange box on the left with The Pete Seeger Mix, a “five-hour mix of Pete Seeger classics and covers” put together by NPR Music partner Folk Alley

Pete Seeger at the pre-inaugural concert for Barack Obama

Websites:

Archive of American Folk Song at the Library of Congress, where Pete Seeger worked as an assistant in 1940

Clearwater, the organization Pete Seeger established in 1969 to preserve and protect the Hudson River

Bits and bobs:

Studs Terkel’s 2005 appreciation, in The Nation, of Pete Seeger’s 86th birthday

The New Yorker‘s 2006 profile, “The Protest Singer”, by Alec Wilkinson, recently released in hardcover

Pete Seeger’s biography at the Kennedy Center, where he was a Kennedy Center honor recipient in 1994

John Hope Franklin, 1915 – 2009: A life of learning

“The very essence of the life of the mind is the freedom to inquire, to examine, and to criticize. But that freedom has the same restraints abroad that it has at home: to state one’s position, if impelled by personal conviction, with clarity, reason, and sobriety, always mindful of the point that the scholar recognizes and tolerates different views that others may hold and that his view is independent, not official.”
John Hope Franklin in The American Scholar, 1968


The eminent American historian and scholar John Hope Franklin died on Wednesday at the age of 94.

From “A Life of Learning”, Professor Franklin’s 1988 Charles Homer Haskins lecture:

My mother, an elementary school teacher, introduced me to the world of learning when I was three years old.  Since there were no day-care centers in the village where we lived, she had no alternative to taking me to school and seating me in the rear where she could keep an eye on me.  I remained quiet but presumably attentive, for when I was about five my mother noticed that on the sheet of paper she gave me each morning, I was no longer making lines and sketching out some notable examples of abstract art.  I was writing words, to be sure almost as abstract as my art, and making sentences.  My mother later said that she was not surprised much less astonished at what some, not she, would have called my precocity.  Her only reproach — to herself, not me — was that my penmanship was hopelessly flawed since she had not monitored my progress as she had done for her enrolled students.  From that point no, I would endeavor to write and through the written word to communicate my thoughts to others.

My interest in having some thoughts of my own to express was stimulated by my father who, among other tasks, practiced law by day and read and wrote by night.  In the absence of any possible distractions in the tiny village, he would read or write something each evening. This was my earliest memory of him and, indeed, it was my last memory of him.  Even after we moved to Tulsa, a real city, and after we entered the world of motion pictures, radio, and television, his study and writing habits remained unaffected.  I grew up believing that in the evenings one either read or wrote.  It was always to read something worthwhile, and if one worked t it hard enough he might even write something worthwhile. I continue to believe that. …

My mother no longer taught [after the family moved to Tulsa] but she saw to it that my sister and I completed all of our home assignments promptly.  Quite often, moreover, she introduced us to some of the great writers, especially Negro authors, such as Paul Laurence Dunbar and James Weldon Johnson, who were not a part of our studies at school.  She also told us about some of the world’s great music such as Handel’s Oratorio, “Esther”, in which she had sung in college.  While the music at school was interesting and lively, especially after I achieved the position of first trumpet in the band and orchestra, there was no Handel or Mozart or Beethoven.  We had a full fare of Victor Herbert and John Philip Sousa, and operettas, in more than one of which I sang the leading role.

Often after school I would go to my father’s office. By the time I was in high school, the depression had yielded few clients but ample time which he spent with me.  It was he who introduced me to ancient Greece and Rome, and he delighted in quoting Plato, Socrates, and Pericles.  We would then walk home together, and after dinner he went to his books and I went to mine.  Under the circumstances, there could hardly have been a better way of life, since I had every intention after completing law school of some day becoming his partner. …

Read Prof. Franklin’s entire lecture here.

  •   *  *  *  *

Racial Equality in America by John Hope Franklin

Race and History: Selected Essays, 1938-1988 by John Hope Franklin

Mirror to America: The Autobiography of John Hope Franklin; a 2006 radio interview with JHF about his then-new memoir

From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African-Americans by John Hope Franklin, first published in 1947 and since updated several times

JHF interviewed by The Guardian, 2006: “Power without grace is a curse”

The PBS First Person Singular interview with Charles Kuralt, on DVD

An audio file from the University of Virginia of JHF reading from his autobiography and poet Rita Dove reading from her work, “followed by a conversation between them on personal and cultural history”

Duke University’s website for Professor Franklin

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.)

“One of the wonders of the day”

“What did you think of the inaugural?  That rail-splitting lawyer is one of the wonders of the day.  Once at Gettysburg and now again on a greater occasion he has shown a capacity for rising to the demands of the hour which we should not expect from orators or men of the schools.  This inaugural strikes me in its grand simplicity and directness as being for all time the historical keynote of this war; in it a people seemed to speak in the sublimely simple utterance of ruder times.”

Charles Francis Adams Jr. in a letter to his father, Charles Francis Adams Sr., Abraham Lincoln’s minister to Great Britain, upon reading the text of Lincoln’s second inaugural address.  Adams Jr. knew what he was talking about regarding the Gettysburg campaign, where he had served as Brevet Brigadier General of the Fifth Massachusetts Volunteers and fought with distinction at the Battle of Aldie.

Darwin 200: Day 4: The Big One

Have a peek at the illustration by Carl Buell at Olduvai George

Many thanks to Mr. Buell for sharing, and hat tip to Michael at The Dispersal of Darwin

Darwin 200: Charles Darwin’s Day

(Previously posted last year as “Funny, you don’t look a day over 198”, with some updates and revisions)

adday

“Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.”
Charles Darwin

A very happy 200th birthday, and a big Valentine’s smooch, to Charles Robert Darwin, born February 12, 1809.

(And to Alice Roosevelt Longworth, too, who was born on the same day, in 1884; interestingly, she and her father shared a lifelong interest in human evolutionary biology, and she went on to study the growing field of molecular genetics.)

To celebrate this year, Farm School offers a highly subjective, not at all comprehensive Charles Darwin bibliography and list of resources for the entire family, with serious and lighthearted offerings; remember, I’m not a trained scientist or a biologist, just a very amateur naturalist who likes to read.

Science historian and songwriter Richard Milner performs a one-man musical show about Charles Darwin, “Charles Darwin Live and In Concert”.  Find him in concert or lecturing at a venue near you.  Milner has been a guest on WNYC (and here‘s his WNYC visit the other year). If he won’t be close by, check the website for a CD or to book the show.  And Milner is also the author of the forthcoming Darwin’s Universe: Evolution from A to Z, with a preface by his longtime friend Stephen Jay Gould and foreword by Ian Tattersall (University of California Press, March 2009).

The Darwin Exhibit

The Darwin exhibition, called variously “The Evolution Revolution” and “Big Idea” is at its final stop, at London’s Natural  History Museum, from November 2008 through April 19, 2009. The exhibit opened in New York in 2005 at the American Museum of Natural History, whose website for the exhibit is still up, with a good list of resources. The exhibit, the “most comprehensive exhibition ever assembled on Darwin and evolution includes rare personal artifacts”, has been organized by The American Museum of Natural History in New York, with Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum; Boston’s Museum of Science; Chicago’s Field Museum; and the Natural History Museum, London, to commemorate the bicentennial. The London Natural History Museum has a good mini website on evolution.

Books for children

Evolution: How We and All Living Things Came to Be by Daniel Loxton

Darwin: With Glimpses into His Private Journal and Letters by Alice B. McGinty, illustrated by Mary Azarian (Houghton Mifflin, April 2009)

What Mr. Darwin Saw by Mick Manning and Brita Granström (Frances Lincoln, March 2009)

What Darwin Saw: The Journey That Changed the World by Rosalyn Schanzer (National Geographic, January 2009)

One Beetle Too Many: The Extraordinary Adventures of Charles Darwin by Kathryn Lasky, illustrated by Matthew Trueman (Candlewick, January 2009). Publishers Weekly starred review here.

Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith by Deborah Heiligman (Holt, December 2008).  Charles and Emma gets a starred review in the January/February 2008 issue of The Horn Book, and in Publishers Weekly here. Ms. Heiligman’s husband is author Jonathan Weiner, who won the Pulitzer Prize in 1994 for The Beak of the Finch: A Story of Evolution in Our Time.

The True Adventures of Charley Darwin by Carolyn Meyer (Harcourt, January 2009); historical fiction about the young Darwin, just setting sail for adventure.

Galapagos George by Jean Craighead George, illustrated by Wendell Minor (HarperCollins, April 2009). The author of My Side of the Mountain, Julie of the Wolves, and other children’s classics for more than 40 years “traces the evolution of a species of giant turtles on the Galapagos Islands from millions of years ago to the present”.

Animals Charles Darwin Saw by Sandra Markle, illustrated by Zina Saunders; to be published April 2009 by Chronicle Books as part of Ms. Markle’s intriguing new series (Animals Christopher Columbus Saw, Animals Robert Scott Saw)

Ringside, 1925: Views from the Scopes Trial by Jen Bryant (no relation, I believe, to William Jennings…)

The Tree of Life by Peter Sís

The Voyage of the Beetle: A Journey around the World with Charles Darwin and the Search for the Solution to the Mystery of Mysteries, as Narrated by Rosie, an Articulate Beetle by Anne H. Weaver, illustrated by George Lawrence (University of New Mexico Press, 2007)

The Sandwalk Adventures: An Adventure in Evolution Told in Five Chapters by Jay Hosler (author of Clan Apis). A comic book by Hosler, a biologist and cartoonist, about the Victorian naturalist’s attempt to explain evolution to a family of mites living in his eyebrows. No, really. Something for the whole family to enjoy. Really and truly. Here’s more from Dr. Hosler on Charlie Darwin: Charlie and Darwin Saves the World.

The Adventures of Charles Darwin by Peter Ward (Cambridge University Press, 1986); chapter book about life on the HMS Beagle as told by a young cabin boy

Inside the Beagle with Charles Darwin by Fiona MacDonald, illustrated by Mark Bergin

Who Was Charles Darwin? by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Nancy Harrison

The Beagle and Mr. Flycatcher: A Story of Charles Darwin by Robert M. Quackenbush; apparently out of print in the US (though not in the UK) but worth searching out at the library because Quackenbush is always fun

Darwin and Evolution for Kids: His Life and Ideas with 21 Activities by Kristan Lawson (Chicago Review Press)

Charles Darwin: A photographic story of a life by David C. King (a Dorling Kindersley biography)

Life on Earth: The Story of Evolution by Steve Jenkins

Our Family Tree: An Evolution Story by Lisa Westberg Peters, illustrated by Lauren Stringer

Life Story: The Story of Life on Our Earth from the Beginning Up to Now by Virginia Lee Burton

Mammals Who Morph: The Universe Tells Our Evolution Story by Jennifer Morgan, illustrated by Dana Lynne Andersen

The Cartoon History of the Earth series by Jacqui Bailey and Matthew Lilly, published by Kids Can Press; including the titles The Birth of the Earth and The Dawn of Life

Eyewitness: Evolution by Linda Gamlin (Dorling Kindersley)

From DK, Evolution Revolution: From Darwin to DNA

The Tree Of Life: The Wonders Of Evolution by Ellen Jackson, illustrated by Judeanne Winter Wiley

We’re Sailing to Galapagos by Laurie Krebs, illustrated by Grazia Restelli (Barefoot Books)

The Evolution Book by Sara Stein; out of print but worth checking the library

Evolve or Die (from the Horrible Science series), by Phil Gates

Evolution by Joanna Cole, illustrated by Aliki (Harper, 1989); out of print but well worth finding for the very young

Around the World with Darwin by Millicent Selsam, illustrated by Anthony Ravielli (Harper &  Row, 1961); you can’t go wrong with Millicent Selsam

Books for older children and adults

The Voyage of the HMS Beagle by Charles Darwin, first published in 1845

The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin (first published in 1859); new illustrated edition, edited by David Quammen

The Descent of Man by Charles Darwin (1871); there is also a new concise edition with selections and commentary by Carl Zimmer (see below)

The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals by Charles Darwin (1872)

From So Simple a Beginning: Darwin’s Four Great Books (Voyage of the Beagle, The Origin of Species, The Descent of Man, The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals), by Charles Darwin and edited by Edward O. Wilson

The Autobiography of Charles Darwin, 1809-1882, edited by Nora Barlow

The Portable Darwin, edited by Duncan M. Porter and Peter W. Graham (from the Viking Portable Library series)

The Norton Critical Edition of Darwin, edited by Philip Appleman (third edition, 20001), first published in 1970 and considered by Dr. Stephen Jay Gould to be “the best Darwin anthology on the market”.

Origins: Selected Letters of Charles Darwin, 1822-1859, edited by Frederick Burkhardt, with a foreword by Stephen Jay Gould.  New anniversary edition published by Cambridge University Press in June 2008.

The Beagle Letters, edited by Frederick Burkhardt, with an introduction by Janet Browne

Evolution: Selected Letters of Charles Darwin, 1860-1870, edited by Frederick Burkhardt, Alison Pearn, and Samantha Evans; with a foreword by Sir David Attenborough. New anniversary edition poublished by Cambridge University Press in June 2008. This volume and the foregoing are a distillation of the late Professor Burkhardt’s 15 volumes (to date) of Darwin’s correspondence.

The Triumph of the Darwinian Method by Michael T. Ghiselin (Dover, 2003)

Charles Darwin: Voyaging and Charles Darwin: The Power of Place, by Janet Browne; Browne’s two-volume biography. She has also written a “biography” of Darwin’s best-known work, Darwin’s Origin of Species: A Biography (from the Books That Changed the World series)

Darwin’s Century: Evolution and the Men Who Discovered It by Loren Eiseley. Out of print. Find it.

The Reluctant Mr. Darwin: An Intimate Portrait of Charles Darwin and the Making of His Theory of Evolution by David Quammen

Charles Darwin: The Concise Story of an Extraordinary Man by Tim Berra

The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Human Evolution, edited by Stephen Jones, Robert D. Martin, and David R. Pilbeam; with a foreword by Richard Dawkins

The Ancestor’s Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution by Richard Dawkins

River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life by Richard Dawkins

Climbing Mount Improbable by Richard Dawkins

The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins

The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design by Richard Dawkins

Galapagos: The Islands That Changed the World by Paul D. Stewart

Darwin for Beginners by Jonathan Miller and Borin Van Loon

Ever Since Darwin: Reflections on Natural History by Stephen Jay Gould

The Panda’s Thumb: More Reflections in Natural History by Stephen Jay Gould

The Book of Life: An Illustrated History of the Evolution of Life on Earth, edited by Stephen Jay Gould

The Richness of Life: The Essential Stephen Jay Gould, edited by Stephen Rose, with a foreword by Oliver Sacks

The Structure of Evolutionary Theory by Stephen Jay Gould

The Diversity of Life by E.O. Wilson

The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth by E.O. Wilson

The Beak of the Finch: A Story of Evolution in Our Time by Jonathan Weiner

Evolution: Society, Science and the Universe, edited by Andrew C. Fabian; with essays by Stephen Jay Gould, Lewis Wolpert, Jared Diamond, Freeman Dyson, and others (Cambridge University Press, 1998)

Living with Darwin: Evolution, Design, and the Future of Faith by Philip Kitcher (Oxford University Press)

Teaching about Evolution and the Nature of Science by the Working Group on Teaching Evolution, National Academy of Sciences

Evolution for Everyone: How Darwin’s Theory Can Change the Way We Think About Our Lives by David Sloan Wilson

What Evolution Is by Ernst Mayr; Dr. Mayr’s speech, “Darwin’s Influence on Modern Thought”, is here.

Evolution by Jean-Baptiste de Panafieu (translated by Linda Asher), with photographs by Patrick Gries

From So Simple a Beginning: The Book of Evolution by Philip Whitfield (Macmillan, 1993); out of print

Just A Theory: Exploring The Nature Of Science by Moti Ben-Ari; not specifically about evolution but very useful

Evolution: The First Four Billion Years, edited by Michael Ruse and Joseph Travis, with a foreword by Edward O. Wilson (Belknap Press, February 2009)

Darwin’s Universe: Evolution from A to Z by Richard Milner, with a preface by Stephen Jay Gould and foreword by Ian Tattersall (University of California Press, March 2009).

The Young Charles Darwin by Keith Stewart Thomson (Yale University Press, February 2009)

Mrs. Charles Darwin’s Recipe Book: Revived and Illustrated, edited by Dusha Bateson and Weslie Janeway (Glitterati, November 2008)

Darwin: Graphic Biography, a comic book/graphic novel by Simon Gurr and Eugene Byrne (January 30, 2009)

Darwin’s Island: The Galapagos in the Garden of England by Steve Jones (Little, Brown, January 2009 in UK, March 2009 in Canada); an excerpt in The Guardian, and reviewed in The Economist.  Steve Jones is the author of Darwin’s Ghost.

Darwin’s Sacred Cause: How a Hatred of Slavery Shaped Darwin’s Views on Human Evolution by Adrian Desmond and James Moore (Houghton Mifflin, January 2009); reviewed in The Economist

Darwin Slept Here: Discovery, Adventure, and Swimming Iguanas in Charles Darwin’s South America by Eric Simons (Overlook, January 2009)

Endless Forms: Charles Darwin, Natural Science, and the Visual Arts edited by Diana Donald and Jane Munro (Yale University Press, April 2009); a “lavishly illustrated book” published to accompany an exhibition organized by the Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge, in association with the Yale Center for British Art

by Charles’s great-great-granddaughter, Darwin: A Life in Poems by Ruth Padel (Knopf, March 2009).  Ms. Padel is a Fellow of both the Royal Society of Literature and the Zoological Society of London. She will read from the new book, and converse with geneticist Jonathan Howard, at “Darwin, Poetry and Science”, chaired by Randal Keynes, at the Royal Society, Kenneth Clark Lecture Theatre, Somerset House on Monday, 9 February 2009 at 6:30pm.

* * * *

Books by science writer and reporter Carl Zimmer:

Virus and the Whale: Exploring Evolution in Creatures Small and Large, edited by Judy Diamond, with Carl Zimmer, E. Margaret Evans, Linda Allison, and Sarah Disbrow; published by the National Science Teachers Association, 2006. An activity book for teachers and their students, which includes parents and their students.

Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea, Carl Zimmer’s companion guide to the PBS series of the same name (see below)

At the Water’s Edge: Fish with Fingers, Whales with Legs, and How Life Came Ashore but Then Went Back to Sea

Smithsonian Intimate Guide to Human Origins

Mr. Zimmer has a ScienceBlog, The Loom: A blog about life, past and future. Not only is there lots of good stuff to read, but he has a regular feature, Science Tattoo Friday, where some of the tattoos are so fascinating and attractive (such as the Copernicus/scientific revolution ones) that I sometimes forget how much I dislike tattoos.

Coloring Books

Galapagos Islands Coloring Book (Dover Coloring Books); for young children

The Human Evolution Coloring Book by Adrienne L. Zihlman (HarperCollins); this one is similar to Wynn Kapit’s books (on geography, physiology, and anatomy) and is not for younger children.

Book lists

PZ Myers at Pharyngula has some of the best online prehistory/evolution reading lists in a variety of categories — “for the kids”, “for the grown-up layman”, “for the more advanced/specialized reader”, etc. (scroll through the comments for more titles).

Coturnix’s book list for adults; he’s moved recently, and is now at ScienceBlogs with A Blog Around the Clock

Magazines, Journals & Articles

The January 2009 issue of Scientific American, entitled “The Evolution of Evolution”; articles include “Darwin’s Living Legacy” and “Testing Natural Selection with Genetics”; Scientific American also offers on February 12, 2009 a special Darwin Day podcast

Scientific American‘s 2002 article by editor John Rennie, “15 Answers to Creationist Nonsense” (including the hoary old chestnut, “Evolution is only a theory”)

New York Times profile of E.O. Wilson, “Taking a Cue From Ants on Evolution of Humans” (July 15, 2008)

Guardian profile of E.O. Wilson, “Darwin’s natural heir” (February 17, 2001)

Verlyn Klinkengborg’s New York Times column, August 2005, Grasping the Depth of Time as a First Step in Understanding Evolution” and his editorial today, “Darwin at 200: The Ongoing Force of His Unconventional Idea

On Film

“Charles Darwin and the Tree of Life”, a one-hour BBC One documentary special narrated by Sir David Attenborough, 1 February 2009; Sir David is described in this BBC press release as “a passionate Darwinian”.

Speaking of the BBC, the Beeb is hailing Darwin this year as “The Genius of Evolution” with a variety of special presentations

Evolution” (PBS), narrated by Liam Neeson. There is also a companion volume, Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea by Carl Zimmer (see above); and the PBS program website, with some projects and links for “Teachers and Students”

Dr. Jacob Bronowski’s “The Ascent of Man”(BBC, 1973), new on DVD (five disc set)

“Growing Up in the Universe” on DVD (two disc set, region-free); Richard Dawkins’s 1991 five one-hour lectures for children, originally televised by the BBC as part of The Royal Institution The Christmas Lectures for Young People, founded by Michael Faraday in 1825.

NOVA: Origins: Fourteen Billion Years of Cosmic Evolution” (PBS)

NOVA: Genius: The Science of Einstein, Newton, Darwin, and Galileo” (PBS)

“Inherit the Wind” starring Spencer Tracy, Fredric March, and Gene Kelly; based on the play, Inherit the Wind by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee

On the Big Screen I: The film “Creation”, starring Paul Bettany and Jennifer Connnelly, based on Annie’s Box: Charles Darwin, His Daughter and Human Evolution (published in 2001) by Randal Keynes, Darwin’s great-great-grandson. The movie is adapted from the book by John Collee (Happy Feet and Master & Commander) and directed by Jon Amiel (The Singing Detective). To be released in the autumn of 2009.

On the Big Screen II?: a film adaptation by Chase Palmer of the recent book Evolution’s Captain: The Story of the Kidnapping That Led to Charles Darwin’s Voyage Aboard the Beagle by Peter Nichols (a bargain right now at Barnes & Noble, by the way).  Not much news on this one lately, so it may have fizzled.

Music

Gilbert & Sullivan’s comic opera “Princess Ida”, first performed in 1884, features the song “The Ape and the Lady” (see the accompanying illustration by Gilbert himself below).  You can listen to a 1924 HMV D’Oyly Carte recording; and here are the lyrics from “The Ape and the Lady”,

A Lady fair, of lineage high,
Was loved by an Ape, in the days gone by
The Maid was radiant as the sun,
The Ape was a most unsightly one.
So it would not do ;
His scheme fell through,
For the Maid, when his love took formal shape,
Expressed such terror
At his monstrous error,
That he stammered an apology and made his ‘scape,
The picture of a disconcerted Ape.
With a view to rise in the social scale,
He shaved his bristles, and he docked his tail,
He grew moustachios, and he took his tub,
And he paid a guinea to a toilet club
But it would not do,
The scheme fell through
For the Maid was Beauty’s fairest Queen,
With golden tresses,
Like a real princess’s,
While the Ape, despite his razor keen,
Was the apiest Ape that ever was seen!
He bought white ties, and he bought dress suits,
He crammed his feet into bright tight boots
And to start in life on a bran new plan,
He christened himself Darwinian Man!
But it would not do,
The scheme fell through
For the Maiden fair, whom the Monkey craved,
Was a radiant Being,
With a brain far-seeing
While a Man, however well-behaved,
At best is only a monkey shaved!

Richard Milner (see above) as “Charles Darwin: Live and In Concert”, and also on CD.  At the website, you can listen to excerpts of “When You Were a Tadpole and I Was a Fish” and “I’m the Guy Who Found Natural Selection”.  The New York Times recently discovered Dr. Milner and has a related science blog post by John Tierney for a science song contest offering “a prize to the Lab reader who comes up with the best lyrics to be sung by Charles Darwin or any other scientist, alive or dead.”

“Origin of Species in Dub” by the Genomic Dub Collective. Yes, that would be reggae. Not just a CD and MP3s, but a DVD too and online videos. And a bonus track, “Dub fi Dover”, to celebrate the outcome in the Dover, Pennsylvania trial. Truly amazing.

Charlie is My Darwinby the Torn Rubbers, official theme song of The Friends of Charles Darwin ; and a bonus,The Darwinian Theoryby John Young, C.E. (to the tune of the Scottish ballad, The King of the Cannibal Islands)

British composer Michael Stimpson is working on a classical piece,Into the Unknown, to celebrate the life and work of Charles Darwin.

Timothy Sellers’ band, Artichoke, released a CD several years ago, 26 Scientists, Volume One: Anning — Malthus; the lyrics and a clip of the song about Darwin, who beat out da Vinci and Doppler for the fourth letter of the alphabet, are here. The CD is $10 at the band’s website and you can buy or download the disc at CD Baby, where you can also read more about it from Timothy Sellers, who was also interviewed by The New York Times.

“Evolutionation” by Dr. Art the Singing Scientist (to the tune of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Californication”), from the CD “Bio-Rhythms III”

Professor Boggs in his Mad Science Factory sings “Evolution (Not So Scary)”; you can listen to a clip here.

By the way, in my search for Darwinian music, I found something MASSIVE, for those who like to learn, and teach, with music. It is in fact called MASSIVE: a database for “Math And Science Song Information, Viewable Everywhere”. The database, which is maintained by Greg Crowther and is part of the National Science Foundation’s National Science Digital Library,

contains information on over 2500 science and math songs. Some of these songs are suitable for 2nd graders; others might only appeal to tenured professors. Some songs have been professionally recorded; others haven’t. Some are quite silly; others are downright serious.

A delight, which you can also listen to all day, all week, all year at MASSIVE Radio — many thanks to Greg Crowther and the band Science Groove for putting it all together. Read more about them here.

Finally, sung to the tune of Gilbert & Sullivan’s “Model Major General” and inspired by Tom Lehrer’s “The Elements”, here is Amadan’s I Am the Very Model of a C – Design – Proponentsist

The Darwin Day website has a variety of audio files, some from the sources mentioned above

HMS Beagle

Project Beagle website and theBeagle blog

If you or your kids get inspired by Project Beagle and want to build your own — ship, that is — you can, with the HMS Beagle plastic ship model kit (1:96), made in Germany by Revell; “features detailed hull with gunports, deck with hatches, masts, yards, 2 anchors, stairways, sails, railings, wheels, cannon, lifeboats with oars. Also included is yarn for rigging, flag chart and display stand with name plate. Measures 16″ long and 11 3/4″ high.”

HMS Beagle: Survey Ship Extraordinary by Karl Marquardt; part of the Anatomy of the Ship series by Conway Maritime Press, which includes volumes on the Endeavour, Bounty, and Bellona.

Out and about online

American Association for the Advancement of Science

Ask a Biologist

Becoming Human website

The Charles Darwin Forum

The Charles Darwin Has a Posse sticker page, from Colin Purrington. Because you can never underestimate the power of a well-placed sticker or bookmark. As I noted in my 2005 Posse post, “As Darwin himself said, and as you can be reminded daily from a bookmark, ‘Doing what little one can to increase the general stock of knowledge is as respectable an object of life as one can, in any likelihood, pursue’.” Colin also has a Charles Darwin/Posse store at Cafe Press where you can outfit yourself completely for the festivities.

The Complete Works of Charles Darwin Online: “This site contains Darwin’s complete publications, thousands of handwritten manuscripts and the largest Darwin bibliography and manuscript catalogue ever published; Darwin Online also hundreds of supplementary works: biographies, obituaries, reviews, reference works and more”, including MP3s for your listening edification and pleasure.

Cambridge University’s Darwin Correspondence Project, founded in 1974 by Frederick Burckhardt (see below), with a remarkable online database with the complete, searchable, texts of around 5,000 letters written by and to Darwin up to the year 1865. The project continues despite Professor Burckhardt’s death last fall at the age of 95.

More Darwin at Cambridge, with the Darwin 2009 Festival. Charles Darwin began at Christ’s College Cambridge as a student in 1827, at the age of 18. Four years later he sailed forth on the HMS Beagle. Of his years at university, he once wrote, “The only evil at Cambridge was its being too pleasant.”

Darwin Day Celebration website, with links, events, and other items leading to a celebration of the great man’s bicentennial on February 12, 2009.

Darwin200, a bicentennial project from the Natural History Museum in London, England

Darwin at Downe, his home and neighborhood

Who knew that Darwin had a rose? The gorgeous David Austin series, which sadly doesn’t grow in my chilly garden, includes the Charles Darwin rose, which you can see here.

The Dispersal of Darwin blog, with a long list of Darwin links

Encyclopedia of Life

Evolve2009, commemorating the occasion in and around San Francisco

Colin Purrington is also the force behind the Evolution Outreach Projects page, which includes a wealth of educational and amusing links

Evolved Homeschooling blog — “A collection of evolution and science resources for the secular homeschooler”, webring, and Cafe Press shop

More shopping, over at EvolveFish’s Darwin Day shop

You can join the Friends of Charles Darwin, gratis. FCD has a long list of science and Darwin blogs

National Center for Science Education, and the Center’s page of resources; the NSCE has a new page on the Darwin Bicentennial in the News

Nature Podcast: Darwin

New York Times “Times Topics” page on Charles Darwin

New York Times “Times Topics” page on Evolution

The Panda’s Thumb; Panda’s Thumb Darwiniana links

The Species of Origin

Teaching Evolution and the Nature of Science (NY Academy of Sciences)

Understanding Evolution website, created by the University of California Museum of Paleontology; lots of resources for educators and children

Toys for the young and young at heart

(I haven’t ordered from any of the following companies so you’re on your own)

Charlie’s Playhouse: “We make games and toys that teach kids about evolution, natural selection and the work of Charles Darwin”, including a giant timeline floor mat, giant timeline poster, ancient creature cards, and a great selection of t-shirts

Thames & Kosmos Milestones in Science kit

Evolving Darwin Play Set

Charles Darwin bobblehead

Charles Darwin finger puppet

Charles Darwin “Little Thinker” plush toy

Charles Darwin and friends in the Oddfellows Scientists Collection

Charles Darwin fridge magnet

Charles Darwin jigsaw puzzle

Highly evolved Lego: model of the HMS Beagle, Darwin aboard ship, the man, the man in the lab, Origin of the Species

From the Farm School archives

Readers and scientists celebrating Darwin, new books for children

Just a theory, celebrations at Cambridge University

Radio Darwin, radio and television celebrations at the BBC

“Part of nature”, Desmond Morris salutes Charles Darwin as a “Hero for our age”

Science resources for The Coalition On The Public Understanding of Science’s Year of Science 2009. Guess what’s up for February?

Celebrating Christmas with Colin Purrington’s Axis of Evo project

Banned Books Week 2008

The new anti-intellectualism plus scientific illiteracy equals the perfect storm over evolution

Arabella Buckley and Darwin

Lincoln and Darwin together again (2008)

Charles Darwin and Sir David Attenborough, in cold blood

Funny, you don’t look a day over 198 (the original February 2008 version of this post)

I typed this all by myself with my opposable thumbs, a post for the creation museum carnival (May 2007)

Project Beagle (March 2007)

Celebrating Darwin Day: Many happy returns (February 2006)

Charles Darwin Has a Posse (December 2005)

* * *

If you have any additional suggestions or recommendations or corrections (links have moved around by themselves, disappeared, etc. more than once), please add them to the comments below. Thank you!

Darwin 200: Day 3 II: From a common origin

My father, the Old Curmudgeon, sent me Alvaro Vargas Llosa’s current article for The New Republic, “Charles Darwin, Conservative? Two hundred years later, the right still misunderstands him”.  From which (with a few links I’ve added):

Polls, particularly in the United States, tell us that many conservatives still distrust Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. The bicentennial of his birth should be a fitting occasion for the right to take another look at a man who contributed immensely to some ideas that it holds dear.

Darwin was not an atheist but a Victorian believer. He was not a proto-Marxist but a liberal, which in 19th-century Britain meant someone who favored individual liberty over big government. Darwin was an admirer of John Locke and Adam Smith, two of the greatest thinkers of freedom. And although he was influenced by Malthus, whose writings on overpopulation were later used by critics of capitalism to justify collectivism, Darwin used that political economist’s ideas in biology, not political economy.

Darwin did not set out to deny God. Anyone who has read The Origin of Species, The Descent of Man or his correspondence is immediately struck by how careful Darwin was to avoid what we would today call an “ideological agenda.” But this diligent student of nature did make one shattering discovery: not the theory of evolution itself, which had been proposed many times and can be traced back to the Greeks, but the fact that evolution is a random process of natural selection whereby certain variations that become well-adapted to the environment are gradually preserved through hereditary transmission. Ultimately, all species have a common origin.

This finding posed a cataclysmic challenge to the established church, comparable to the re-examination of Aristotle in the 12th and 13th centuries or the displacement of the Earth from the center of the universe in the 16th and 17th centuries. But unlike the teachings of Aristotle, which were absorbed by the church through Thomas Aquinas, and the findings of Copernicus, Galileo and Newton, which were reconciled with religion by rational Christianity and Deism, Darwin’s books have remained anathema to many believers. The pope finally accepted his teachings in the 1990s and the Anglican Church recently apologized to him. But for millions of Christians, Darwin remains unacceptable. …

Read the rest here.

Darwin 200: Day 3: Teach Evolution

Colin Purrington is also the force behind the Evolution Outreach Projects page, which includes a wealth of educational and amusing links

National Center for Science Education, and the Center’s page of resources.  And, the NCSE’s latest issue of Evolution: Education and Outreach — a new journal to promote accurate understanding and comprehensive teaching of evolutionary theory for a wide audience — is now available online.

Ask a Biologist

Encyclopedia of Life

Scientific American’s 2002 article by editor John Rennie, “15 Answers to Creationist Nonsense” (including the hoary old chestnut, “Evolution is only a theory”)

Two UK projects for schoolchildren as part of Darwin200:   Survival Rivals and The Great Plant Hunt

Teaching about Evolution and the Nature of Science by the Working Group on Teaching Evolution, National Academy of Sciences

Teaching Evolution and the Nature of Science (NY Academy of Sciences)

Understanding Evolution website, created by the University of California Museum of Paleontology; lots of resources for educators and children

Evolved Homeschooling blog — “A collection of evolution and science resources for the secular homeschooler”, webring, and Cafe Press shop

If you need more resources for teaching evolution, there’s always my old post from last year,

Funny, you don’t look a day over 198

Darwin 200: Day 2: Highly evolved toys

Some educational, others just for fun:

Toys for the young and young at heart

(I haven’t ordered from any of the following companies so you’re on your own)

If you or your kids get inspired by Project Beagle and want to build your own — ship, that is — you can, with the HMS Beagle plastic ship model kit (1:96), made in Germany by Revell; “features detailed hull with gunports, deck with hatches, masts, yards, 2 anchors, stairways, sails, railings, wheels, cannon, lifeboats with oars. Also included is yarn for rigging, flag chart and display stand with name plate. Measures 16″ long and 11 3/4″ high.”

Charlie’s Playhouse: “We make games and toys that teach kids about evolution, natural selection and the work of Charles Darwin”, including a giant timeline floor mat, giant timeline poster, ancient creature cards, and a great selection of t-shirts

Thames & Kosmos Milestones in Science kit

Evolving Darwin Play Set, more amusing than scientifically accurate

Charles Darwin bobblehead

Charles Darwin finger puppet

Charles Darwin “Little Thinker” plush toy

Charles Darwin and friends in the Oddfellows Scientists Collection

Charles Darwin fridge magnet

Charles Darwin jigsaw puzzle

Yet more CD jigsaw puzzles

Highly evolved Lego: model of the HMS Beagle, Darwin aboard ship, the man, the man in the lab, Origin of the Species

Two different schools of reading

in England.

UK children’s laureate Michael Rosen wonders, in The Guardian Book Blog, “just how difficult would it be to get schools currently teaching ‘literacy’ to teach a genuine love of reading instead?”  Mr. Rosen is hoping, with the help of the BBC, to spark a “reading revolution”, beginning with a school in Cardiff, Wales.  According to a related Guardian article [links added by me],

… Michael Rosen is set to do for books what Jamie Oliver did for school dinners, with a new BBC show in which he attempts to get a Cardiff primary school to fall in love with literature in just 10 weeks.

The hour-long show, Just Read with Michael Rosen, is due to appear in February. It will see Rosen, author of Mustard, Custard, Grumble Belly and Gravy and We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, giving staff at the school permission to shake up their timetables in an attempt to get classes reading for fun. Many of the children at the school have few books at home, and have never visited a library. …

With teachers under pressure to deliver a “reading curriculum”, Rosen said that schools have developed what he dubbed “excerpt-itis”, where classes read an extract from a book and are immediately asked questions about it. “It’s absolutely pathetic – they don’t even tell the whole story,” he said.

And, finally,

“It’s not rocket science – it’s just doing all we can and doing it with enthusiasm,” he said. “It’s about putting books at the centre of the curriculum, getting children engaging with worlds beyond their own, reading about complex ideas in an enjoyable way.”

“Just Read with Michael Rosen” airs tomorrow evening, Sunday, February 8, on BBC Four at 9 pm.

A world of difference from the news reported last autumn that a secondary school (high school) in Chesterfield, England, would be turning its library into a “virtual-learning environment” in this new year; the librarian would lose her job.  Author Philip Pullman, alerted by author Alan Gibbons (founder last autumn of The Campaign for the Book) joined in to try to save the school’s library,   sending a letter to the headteacher.  From which,

I am deeply dismayed to learn, from the Campaign for the Book, of your decision to close the library at your school and make the librarian redundant. This simply cannot be in the best interests of your students. A
library, with a dedicated and professional staff, should be at the very heart of any institution devoted to learning. Nothing can replace a proper library, with its resources centrally available, and with the expertise of a qualified librarian to guide the students in the best and most productive ways of research.

As for the idea that fiction is not worth looking after properly and can be relegated to “break times and after school clubs”, and does not need a qualified librarian to deal with it, that runs contrary to every experience I have ever had as a teacher, as a pupil, and as a writer. …

Have you no idea of the richness and depth of modern (and classic) children’s fiction, and the profound importance it
has not only in the classroom but in the hearts and minds of the pupils in your care? Have you any idea how valuable the knowledge and experience of librarians is in this field alone? Are you going to relegate the whole activity of reading fiction — novels being, in the words of Jane Austen, “work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its
varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best-chosen language” — to the status of a trivial and innocuous activity like stamp-collecting or playing with a frisbee?

I urge you to think again. Do you really want your school to be a by-word for philistinism and ignorance? I can assure you that that will be the result of your present policy.

Or, as Mr. Rosen might put it, it’s not rocket science, is it?

*  *  *

Interestingly, while looking for the links to Mr. Rosen’s books, the following came up at Amazon.com:

Promoting Reading for Pleasure in the Primary School by Michael Lockwood, originally published in the UK last June.  Not surprisingly, Mr. Pullman offers the following blurb, emphasis mine:

This book is first class. It puts the matter very clearly and succinctly, and presents a great deal of evidence to support the argument that pleasure is not a frivolous extra, but the very heart and essence of what reading is about. It also gives readers plenty of ideas for carrying the principle into the classroom, and for justifying it… This is an excellent piece of work, which I hope will find a place on every staffroom bookshelf.

Then again, it’s not rocket science, is it?

Then again, we’re at the point where the idea that “pleasure is not a frivolous extra, but the very heart and essence of what reading is about” requires justifying.