• About Farm School

    "There are obviously two educations. One should teach us how to make a living and the other how to live."
    James Adams, from his essay "To 'Be' or to 'Do': A Note on American Education", 1929

    We're a Canadian family of five, farming, home schooling, and building our own house. I'm nowhere near as regular a blogger as I used to be.

    The kids are 18/Grade 12, 16/Grade 11, and 14/Grade 10.

    Contact me at becky(dot)farmschool(at)gmail(dot)com

  • Notable Quotables

    "If you want a golden rule that will fit everybody, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful."
    William Morris, from his lecture "The Beauty of Life"

    "‘Never look at an ugly thing twice. It is fatally easy to get accustomed to corrupting influences."
    English architect CFA Voysey (1857-1941)

    "The world of books is the most remarkable creation of man. Nothing else that he builds ever lasts. Monuments fall, nations perish, civilizations grow old and die out; and, after an era of darkness, new races build others. But in the world of books are volumes that have seen this happen again and again, and yet live on, still young, still as fresh as the day they were written, still telling men’s hearts of the hearts of men centuries dead."
    Clarence Day

    "Anyone who has a library and a garden wants for nothing."

    "Histories make men wise; poets, witty; the mathematics, subtile; natural philosophy, deep; moral, grave; logic and rhetoric, able to contend."
    Sir Francis Bacon, "Essays"

    "The chief aim of education is to show you, after you make a livelihood, how to enjoy living; and you can live longest and best and most rewardingly by attaining and preserving the happiness of learning."
    Gilbert Highet, "The Immortal Profession: The Joys of Teaching and Learning"

    "Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment."
    Walter Wriston

    "I'd like to give you a piece of my mind."
    "Oh, I couldn't take the last piece."
    Ginger Rogers to Frances Mercer in "Vivacious Lady" (1938)

    "No race can prosper till it learns that there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem."
    Booker T. Washington

    "Please accept my resignation. I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member."
    Attributed to Groucho Marx in "The Groucho Letters" by Arthur Sheekman

    "If you can't say something good about someone, sit right here by me."
    Alice Roosevelt Longworth

    "If we bring a little joy into your humdrum lives, we feel all our hard work ain't been in vain for nothin'."
    Jean Hagen as "Lina Lamont" in "Singin' in the Rain" (1952)
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  • Copyright © 2005-2016 Please do not use any of my words or my personal photographs without my express permission.

Teacher meme

Another day, another meme, but this time I was tagged and some time ago, too. Literacy Teacher at Mentor Texts & More tagged me for a teacher’s meme, and I very much appreciate the fact that a NYC public school teacher thought of me for this one, which I find both nifty and generous. (Do I mention here that I grew up down the street from P.S. 75 in Manhattan?)

And since I’ve spent the past couple of days ordering books and curriculum — more books and other fun stuff (list to come in a future post) than curriculum (a few Explode the Code workbooks for the boys and the next level of Singapore Math for everyone) — I am getting more in a teaching mode if not mood.

1. I am a good teacher because… I try to incorporate each of the kids’ interests and passions in our studies. Because I try not to answer Davy’s questions — “How fast do clouds move?” [variation: “How fast do the blades in the blender turn?”], “What weighs more, the bull or the truck?” — with “Ask your father.” And because learning and reading are among my own greatest passions, which makes it easier than not to pass both along to my children.

2. If I weren’t a teacher, I would… still buy as many books and other goodies for the kids. But it’s nice to have an official excuse, er, reason. As for a different profession, after the kids are up and out, the weekly newspaper always seems to need reporters, not to mention editors with a good supply of sharp red pencils.

3. My teaching style is… more guiding than teaching. And following the Yeats quote beloved by so many, “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” Oh, and an offshoot from my mothering: the ever-trusty method of reverse psychology. “Do you really think you could possibly read a Nancy Drew book in one short day?” said with a very worried, doubting expression on motherly face. (And guess what? Laura is now reading her way through Nancy Drew books — is there a better way to spend the last few weeks of summer vacation? — at the rate of one a day.)

4. My classroom is… everywhere from the kitchen table, where the kids do their seatwork (math, writing, penmanship, grammar, and so on); to the boys’ bedroom, where I sit cross-legged on the floor and read aloud while all three play with Lego or Tinker Toys, or draw; to the stage at the local college theater for drama; to our corrals and fields for nature study and animal husbandry; the little village down the road, where the kids have art lessons; and everywhere in between and beyond.

5. My lesson plans… are minimal, in part because the kids will be in second, third, and fifth grades. Some of our programs and texts — math (Singapore), spelling (Avko Sequential Spelling), grammar (Growing with Grammar), composition (Write with the Best) — incorporate lessons, minimizing the planning for me. Other subjects, such as history, where we mostly read books and discuss them; and science, which this year will be more experimenting and observing and (gasp!) less reading and writing, are very light on the lesson plans.

I’ve also found — surprise, surprise — that the more I plan, the more life gets in the way. Such as the all-planned-out October several years ago, when we suddenly and delightedly found ourselves in NYC with my parents for several weeks. No plan, but great fun and tremendous amounts of learning.

6. One of my teaching goals is… for the kids to learn to think for themselves and to work more independently each year.

7. The toughest part of teaching is… not passing on my own biases and prejudices to the kids, especially when it comes to math and science, which were my least favorite, and least successful, subjects from about fifth grade. Mostly, it was the way the subjects were taught, from the philosophy and structure (New Math, anyone? Even my parents didn’t understand my homework) to the methods, such as textbooks and dry delivery for the most part.

The revelation of home schooling has been that science and math taught properly can be engaging and exciting, for the kids and for me. I revel in this lucky second chance to learn more about both subjects, in many cases to understand a good number of concepts properly for the first time.

8. The thing I love most about teaching is… watching my kids make connections, and come up with ideas, thoughts, and questions I’ve never considered (how fast are those blades in the blender turning?).

9. A common misconception about teaching is… that Tom and I aren’t teaching when school is officially out for the summer. Instead, it’s when we enter one of our unschooling, low tide phases of the year. Again, not so much planning, but an awful lot of learning.

10. The most important thing I’ve learned since I started teaching… is never to underestimate a child’s abilities and interests.

This is a busy time of year for teachers of all stripes, so I’ll leave the tag open for anyone who wants to play. Leave me a note in the comments if you do. And thanks again to Literacy Teacher, with all best wishes for the upcoming school year.

* * *

Just a quick reminder that Literacy Teacher hosted the very first Picture Book Carnival earlier this month. If, as I did, you missed it, you have another chance — the second Picture Book Carnival will be up no later than Saturday, September 1; deadline for submissions is Wednesday, August 29, and the suggested theme is picture books good for readalouds.

The year-end list of "100 Cool Teachers in Children’s Literature"

Mary Lee and Franki at A Year of Reading have posted their complete list of
the top 100 wonderful teachers in children’s books
. At this time of year, I tend to get listed out, but this is a fun one, and I’m happy to see so many of my favorites here, from Little Women‘s Jo March, Caddie Woodlawn‘s Miss Parker, Roald Dahl’s Matilda‘s Miss Honey, and Great Aunt Arizona, to Nicholas Nickelby, Stuart Little, Anne Shirley, Miss Stacey, and Laura Ingalls.

Tossing textbooks

I made a comment the other day about textbooks, in connection with the library nonsense in California where the school trustees aren’t keen on library books contradicting textbooks.

I believe my exact words were, “textbooks, which with a few exceptions tend to be committee-written, dumbed down, boring, uneducational, politically correct drivel.”

And then I linked to Diane Ravitch‘s The Language Police: How Pressure Groups Restrict What Students Learn, all about the deficiencies of textbooks — she addresses those on the subject of English literature, and world and American history for the most part — and the textbook publishing industry; with which, in the interest of full disclosure I used to work in a previous life, and which probably paid for at least the bathroom in my old co-op apartment. But I didn’t have to like them much then, and I still don’t.

My own experiences with textbooks, academically and professionally, have colored my decision to limit their use in our home schooling, both by not using too many and by relegating them to a supporting position as reference books, rather than relying on them as main texts. I remember sitting in a classroom over 30 years ago, well before political correctness reared its ugly head and the educational publishers started eating each other, staring at the dry dusty writing in my history textbook and thinking that I would never be able to remember, or be interested in, the day’s reading. And I remember the freedom of high school, where we were finally given some good quality historical nonfiction and then entrusted with primary sources. English textbooks were even worse; you’d get a teasing, tantalizing snippet, and no more, of something good, and then something else interesting would go flying by.

I do think textbooks, the few well-written ones by a minimum of authors, have their place, especially in upper level math and science studies. One of my long-time favorite history textbooks is the two-volume Growth of the American Republic by Henry Steele Commager, Samuel Eliot Morison, and William E. Leuchtenberg (volume I, volume II), which the kids will make full use of when the time comes. And this year we are using Joy Hakim’s History of US, which I use as a narrative overview for the time period, and then supplement with armfuls of good historical nonfiction and fiction, from Johnny Tremain and Ben and Me to Paul Revere’s Ride by Longfellow and Sam Fink’s illustrated version of the Declaration of Independence.

As Ravitch writes in The Language Police [all emphases mine],

The flight from knowledge and content in the past generation has harmed our children and diminished our culture. As they advance in school, children recognize that what they see on television is far more realistic and thought-provoking than the sanitized world of their textbooks. The numbing nihilism of the contentless curriculum produced by the puritans of left and right merely feeds the appetite for the exciting nihilism of an uncensored and sensationalized popular culture, skillfully produced by amoral entrepreneurs who are expert at targeting the tastes of bored teenagers. …Intelligence and reason cannot be achieved merely by skill-building and immersion in new technologies; elites have always know this and have always insisted on more for their children. Intelligence and reason cannot be developed absent the judgment that is formed by prolonged and thoughtful study of history, literature, and culture, not only that of our own nation, but of other civilizations as well.

That is not what our children get today. Instead, they get faux literature, and they get history that lightly skims across the surface of events, with no time to become engaged in ideas or to delve beneath the surface. Not only does censorship diminish the intellectual vitality of the curriculum, it also erodes our commitment to a common culture.

Ravitch’s argument is bolstered by an old Edutopia online article, “The Muddle Machine: Confessions of a Textbook Editor” by Tamim Ansary, currently highlighted at a couple of my favorite education blogs, Chris O’Donnell, and Tall, Dark, and Mysterious. I was intrigued by a few of Ansary’s suggested steps for reform, which many homeschooling families already follow:

“Revamp our funding mechanisms to let teachers assemble their own curricula from numerous individual sources instead of forcing them to rely on single comprehensive packages from national textbook factories. We can’t have a different curriculum in every classroom, of course, but surely there’s a way to achieve coherence without stultification.”Reduce basals to reference books — slim core texts that set forth as clearly as a dictionary the essential skills and information to be learned at each grade level in each subject. In content areas like history and science, the core texts would be like mini-encyclopedias, fact-checked by experts in the field and then reviewed by master teachers for scope and sequence. …

“Just as software developers create applications for particular operating systems, textbook developers should develop materials that plug into the core texts. Small companies and even individuals who see a niche could produce a module to fill it. None would need $60 million to break even. Imagine, for example, a world-history core. One publisher might produce a series of historical novellas by a writer and a historian working together to go with various places and periods in history.”

The Edutopia website (brought to you by the George Lucas Educational Foundation, yes, that George Lucas) has some interesting related articles, including “How To: Toss the Text”, although the most useful hint for those trying to wean themselves from textbooks was tucked away at the very bottom of the page: “Explore books addressed to many audiences: college level, general high school, and general interest. These will show you a variety of approaches and provide a ready supply of entry points for your students.”

Another article, “No Books, No Problem” is by chemistry teacher Geoff Ruth, who admits, “The students in my general chemistry class almost never open their textbook. My reason: The less I use the book, the more they learn. While some textbooks are excellent, most bore my students and frustrate me.” At the end of the article are a series of “How To” links, for science and history.

Some more extras:

Ravitch’s book has a nifty appendix at the end, a sampler of children’s classic literature for grades 3 to 10; and her end notes and bibliography are a goldmine of information for parents and teachers. I haven’t found her list of book recommendations online anywhere so you’ll have to try your library or bookstore for The Language Police. BookCloseouts has a couple in stock now (at this writing) for $6.99.

The American Textbook Council, an independent research organization based in New York, “dedicated to improving the social studies curriculum and civic education in the nation’s elementary and high schools.” The ATC reviews history textbooks and other educational materials, and issues a yearly report, available for purchase.

The Textbook League, based in California and headed by William J. Bennetta (not to be confused with William J. Bennett, the former secretary of education and “drug czar”), reviews middle school and high school textbooks in a variety of disciplines, including math and science.
UPDATED to add: While I find TTL’s science and math book reviews useful, the more I consider the history text reviews, the more I find they require great grains of salt.