• 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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Speechless and scary

The New York Times‘s account of the arrival of a busload of paleontologists last week at the Creation unMuseum in Kentucky.

Tidbits:

“I’m very curious and fascinated,” Stefan Bengtson, a professor of paleozoology at the Swedish Museum of Natural History, said before the visit, “because we have little of that kind of thing in Sweden.”

*  *  *

The scientists received the group admission rate, which included lunch.

*  *  *

“I’m speechless,” said Derek E.G. Briggs, director of the Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale, who walked around with crossed arms and a grimace. “It’s rather scary.”

*  *  *

Many of the paleontologists thought the museum misrepresented and ridiculed them and their work and unfairly blamed them for the ills of society.

“I think they should rename the museum — not the Creation Museum, but the Confusion Museum,” said Lisa E. Park, a professor of paleontology at the University of Akron.

“Unfortunately, they do it knowingly,” Dr. Park said. “I was dismayed. As a Christian, I was dismayed.”

* * *

By the end of the visit, among the dinosaurs, Dr. Briggs [of Yale’s Peabody Museum] seemed amused. “I like the fact the dinosaurs were in the ark,” he said. (About 50 kinds of dinosaurs were aboard Noah’s ark, the museum explains, but later went extinct for unknown reasons.)

The museum, he realized, probably changes few beliefs. “But you worry about the youngsters,” he said.

* * *

Dr. [Tamaki] Sato [a professor of geology from Tokyo Gakugei University in Japan] likened the museum to an amusement park. “I enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed Disneyland,” she said.

Did she enjoy Disneyland?

“Not very much,” she said.

*  *  *

Do yourself and your kids a favor this summer.  Visit and support a real natural history museum, and return often.  I have a brief listing in this old post from 2007,

I typed this all by myself with my opposable thumbs

and there’s a good listing at Natural History Museums by Location, brought to you by Paleoartisans.

(While you’re waiting to go to the museum, read Carl Zimmer‘s February 2009 article in Seed Magazine on “The Awe of Natural History Collections”)

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.”

Alberta takes one step forward, two steps back

From Paula Simon’s column, “One step forward, two steps back”, on this week’s introduction of Bill 44 amending the province’s Human Rights Act, in today’s Edmonton Journal:

Under Bill 44, school boards must provide parents and guardians with advance notice any time instructional materials or courses of study that deal explicitly with religion, sexuality or sexual orientation are going to be taught. Parents will have the right to pull children from such classes.

That may not seem so dramatic. Schools already send home permission forms that parents must sign before their children take classes in sex education. Parents can already pull their children from school programs that deal with religion. I pulled my own daughter from the classroom when the Gideons came to hand out New Testaments. Parents should have their religious beliefs (or lack thereof) respected. And in our multicultural, pluralist society, we have to balance carefully, to make sure we protect both the civil rights of gay and lesbian Albertans, and the cultural rights of those who are made sincerely uncomfortable by homosexuality.

Yet enshrining parental rights in the Human Rights Act marks a dramatic departure. Before now, parents who had concerns about a teacher’s teachings might complain to a principal or school board. Now, teachers and boards could be called before a human-rights tribunal. But it goes further. On Tuesday, Ed Stelmach was asked whether Bill 44 meant parents could pull their children from classes on evolution. “The parents would have the opportunity to make that choice,” he said.

Though Stelmach tried to back away from that point in question period Wednesday, Blackett confirmed parents would have the right to opt out of evolution classes.

Does this mean schools will be required to provide advance notice, any time a teacher discusses dinosaurs, fossils, continental drift, or sedimentary rocks? You can’t possibly teach science with intellectual honesty, if you’re constantly self-censoring to avoid offending strict Creationist sensibilities.

Read the rest here.

“Deep, recurring human truths”

Reading through The Guardian online last week I came across the news that UK Poet Laureate Andrew Motion, an atheist (and also one of the directors of The Poetry Archive), has “called for an overhaul of the school curriculum to reverse the ‘depressing’ trend which threatened to leave future generations unable to fully understand the works of Milton and Shakespeare or even more recent writers such as TS Eliot”:

Mr Motion, who holds a chair in creative writing at Royal Holloway, University of London, said that he had struggled to teach Milton’s Paradise Lost to undergraduates because they had no concept of the fall of man.

“These were all bright students, very hard-working, all with good A-levels, but their knowledge of the great ancient stories was very sketchy,” he said in an interview.

“So when the time came to talk about Milton, I found very few knew there had been a civil war. As for the Bible, forget it, they just about knew who Adam and Eve were.”

He insisted that while secularist ideas had put many people off studying the Bible, parents who do not believe in God should have nothing to fear from their children learning about the Bible.

“If people say this is about ramming religion down people’s throats, they aren’t thinking about it hard enough,” he said.

“It is more about the power of these words to connect with deep, recurring human truths, and also the story of the influence of that language and those stories.”

And he warned that growing ignorance of the great stories of the Bible as well as classical mythology was becoming an increasingly serious handicap for those studying literature.

“Many of my students stumble into vaguely mythological stories in their writing,” he said.

Read the rest of the article here.

Here’s the perfect example of what you can do with a little book learning, not to mention a great deal of craft and patience: retired farmer Alec Garrard’s 12′ by 20′ model of  Herod’s Temple; as Mr. Garrard notes, “I have an interest in buildings and religion so I thought maybe I could combine the two and I came up with the idea of doing the temple”.  A detailed slide show of the model is here.

*  *  *

Polymath Isaac Asimov’s Guide to the Bible: A Historical Look at the Old and New Testaments

The Bible: A Biography, Islam: A Short History, and A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam by Karen Armstrong

Biblical Literacy: The Most Important People, Events, and Ideas of the Hebrew Bible by Joseph Telushkin

Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know — And Doesn’t by Stephen Prothero

World Religions: The Great Faiths Explored & Explained by John Bowker (DK Publishing)

The Bible Literacy Project