I know many of us have resentful memories of not being allowed to read ahead in our school books back when we sat row by row in our public classrooms. Or we read ahead anyway and received some sort of reprimand or punishment for it, and it still chafes.
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Thursday, October 29, 2020
Thursday, September 10, 2020
Many places are lifting restrictions. Some are still locked down. Theses ideas are adaptable to other conditions- when weather prevents much outdoors time, apartment living, illness in the family, etc.
First remind yourself of the purpose and methods of nature study.
The purpose is knowing their immediate world and the method is personal observation.
"Nature-study not only educates, but it educates nature-ward; and nature is ever our companion, whether we will or no. Even though we are determined to shut ourselves in an office, nature sends her messengers. The light, the dark, the moon, the cloud, the rain, the wind, the falling leaf, the fly, the bouquet, the bird, the cockroach they are all ours.By L. H. BAILEY, printed in Comstock’s Nature Study Guide
Saturday, June 27, 2020
Follow the Drinking Gourd was first published in 1928. The song collector who published it said he heard it from others, but most students of folk song and spiritual songs think at best he was exaggerating, as the circumstances seemed unlikely and no other collector ever seems to have heard it.
Peg-Leg Joe seems to also be the stuff of legends, much like Paul Bunyan and Mike Fink. There may have been such a person, or perhaps he just grew around out of stories told. It would seem like a peg-leg would be too easily identifiable to make him an effective conductor on the Underground Railroad, but perhaps clever travellers and conductors made the story up to misdirect slave-catchers and others wishing ill to freedom seekers. That's mere speculation, but who knows?
What isn't mythical is that the North Star, seen in the dipper or drinking gourd constellation, was important to enslaved Black Americans before and after freedom. They used it practically as a compass to help them to make it freedom in the north. They used it symbolically. As a symbol it inflamed imaginations, inspired hearts, spurred hopes, infused dreams. It was claimed that every enslaved mother taught her child to identify the North Star as early as possible.
Charles Ball in his account of years of slavery and his escape to freedom (written with the help of a friendly abolitionist, as literacy was denied Ball by law for fifty years of his life) references the practical use of the North Star:
" I now began to feel the want of shoes, mine having long since been worn out, my boots also beginning to fail so much I was obliged to bind straps of hickory bark about them to keep them from falling to pieces. It was now November and I was yet in South Carolina. I determined to abandon the roads altogether and advanced steadily. though slowly. for four or five nights. setting my face to the north star when I was again delayed by dark weather and kept in idleness nearly two weeks. On the second night after this, my course was arrested by a broad and rapid river, which I believed to be the Catawba. This I crossed by swimming, resting at some large rocks near the middle. I now considered myself in North Carolina. The month of November is always a season of clouds and vapours, but at this time the fine weather vanished early in the month and all the clouds of the universe seemed to have collected in North Carolina. From the second night after passing the Catawba I did not see the north star for three weeks, and in that time made no progress..."
John Pierpoint, staunch abolitionist and popular antebellum period American poet, used it in his poem about slavery*:
|Star of the North, I look to thee||20|
|While on I press; for well I know|
|Thy light and truth shall set me free;—|
|Thy light, that no poor slave deceiveth;|
|Thy truth, that all my soul believeth.|
Below are a few samples taken from the book, The Underground Rail Road: A Record of Facts, Authentic Narratives, Letters, &c., Narrating the Hardships, Hair-breadth Escapes, and Death Struggles of the Slaves in Their Efforts for Freedom, as Related by Themselves and Others Or Witnessed by the Author : Together with Sketches of Some of the Largest Stockholders and Most Liberal Aiders and Advisers of the Road. This book written by William Still, a freeborn black man from the north, secretary of The Pennsylvania Society for the Abolition of Slavery's Vigilance Committee, I believe sometimes treasurer, and frequent funder of Harriet Tubman and others on the Underground Rail Road. He seems to have been quite a remarkable man in his own right, and was uniquely positioned to note the accounts of the men and women who took their fredom in their own hands and made the harrowing journey North to freedom.
In the preface he explains: "In these Records will be found interesting narratives of the escapes of many men, women and children, from the prison-house of bondage; from cities and plantations; from rice swamps and cotton fields; from kitchens and mechanic shops; from Border States and Gulf States; from cruel masters and mild masters; — some guided by the north star alone, penniless, braving the perils of land and sea, eluding the keen scent of the blood-hound as well as the more dangerous pursuit of the savage slave-hunter; some from secluded dens and caves of the earth where for months and years they had been hidden away waiting for the chance to escape; from mountains and swamps, where indescribable suffering from hunger and other privations had patiently been endured."
Still relates the account of Edward and his two brothers, held in bondage by the same man. Upon discovered they had been sold away down south, they were "Moved almost to desperation at their master's course in thus selling them, the three brothers after reflection determined to save themselves if possible, and without any definite knowledge of the journey, they turned their eyes towards the North Star, and under the cover of night they started for_Pennsylvania, not knowing whether they would ever see the goodly land of freedom..."
In another account he says, "The Vigilance Committee for aiding and befriending fugitives" held regular meetings but could not hold them "too publicly, as we almost always had some of the travelers toward the north star present whose masters or their agents were frequently in the city in hot pursuit. "
I can find few better examples to illustrate just how much import the north star had in inspiring and sparking the flames of imagination in those seeking freedom than the fact that Frederick Douglass named his abolitionist paper The North Star. You can read the introductory article and search for others at this very informative website.
Found at Mudcat (where many informative discussions of folk songs are held):
Botkin, B.A. 1944. A Treasury of Southern Folklore. Crown Publishers, NY. "Follow the Drinking Gourd" was first documented by a folklorist, H.B. Parks, in Texas. His account of discovering the song and the story behind it are difficult to obtain ("Follow the Drinking Gourd." 1928. Publications of the Texas Folklore Society, Frank Dobie, ed). Botkin's account of the song is essentially a reprint of Park's publication.
Parks records the story by "an old Negro" he met at College Station, Texas (date not given) as follows:
One of my [i.e., Park's] great-uncles, who was connected with the railroad movement, remembered that in the records of the Anti-Slavery Society there was a story of a peg-legged sailor, known as Peg-Leg Joe, who made a number of trips through the South and induced young Negroes to run away and escape through the North to Canada....
The story behind the song seems to have mainly come from the anonymous "old Negro.""
Parks also said that the first time he heard the song sung in 1912:
"It is very doubtful if this part of the song would have attracted anyone's attention had not the old grandfather, who had been sitting on a block of wood in front of the cabin, slowly got up and, taking his cane, giving the boy a sound lick across the back with the admonition not to sing that song again. This excited my curiosity and I asked the old man why he did not want the boy to sing the song. The only answer I could get was that it was bad luck"
Like George Washington's little axe and the cherry tree, the song of the drinking gourd may be somewhat apocryphal, but then again, they both may be more of an exaggeration than an apocryphal tale, and both tell us something deep, rich, and meaningful about the people who hold the stories dear.
You can read William Still's inspiring account of escapes on the underground rail-road online free here: https://archive.org/stream/undergroundrailr1872stil/undergroundrailr1872stil_djvu.txt
You can buy a text or an audible version here: https://amzn.to/2YHnn7f
A short review of one of the drinking gourd picture books and some other Black history and stories to read here.
These are all valuable additions to your family reading and singing. However, let me also suggest that you do not let all or even the majority of the stories your kids read about Black Americans be about slavery. There should be a healthy number of good stories about regular black kids having regular black lives and regular black kid story adventures as well as biographies about black Americans known for other accomplishments. Some recommended books at that link, and I'd like to make an extra plug for WHOOSH!.
Taj Mahal sings it here (an Amazon song you can download)
Kim and Reggie Harris sing it here (.99 to download)
For more about why this is a valuable song (it was important to the Civil Rights activists) even though its origins are not reliable here. It's great folklore. It's not strictly underground railroad history.
*John Pierpont- in a strange twist, while John was so strongly anti-slavery, James Lord Pierpont,one of his sons, widowed and failed in business left his children to his father to rear, moved to Georgia, remarried and began a second family, wrote minstrel songs, and when the Civil War began he wrote pro-confederate songs and joined the Confederate Army, even as his 76 y.o. father served as a Chaplain in the Union Army (which proved too taxing for Pierpont Senior's health, so he retired and worked for the Post Office). James Lord Pierpont, author of minstrel and pro-confederate songs, also wrote Jingle Bells.
Saturday, March 21, 2020
Sometime much later, the other monk said to his companion, “Did you forget that it is against the rules to touch a woman? Have you forgotten the vows you have taken?”
The other monk answered, “Brother, I left the young woman on the bank of the river once we crossed. Why are you still carrying her in your mind?”
Wednesday, February 12, 2020
It's not that the facts don't matter, it's that if the children don't have curiosity, love, interest, if they don't even care, none of the facts really sink in anyway. There are things missing from every history book that are worth of attention, but history is a wide and deep topic and there isn't time to give all topics all the attention they might merit in the school hours alone.
So flesh things out with biographies, visits to local historical sites, include museums and historical marker visits in your itinerary if/when you travel, notice those other opportunities for connections in your reading, and in your living ( a little goes a long way, don't eat up the hours they should have of free time to explore their own interests).
In my own life, I remember learning most about Balboa when my family visited Balboa park in San Diego as a child perhaps 10 years old. If I had ever heard of him before I did not remember it, but visiting the park gave me a wide eyed discovery of the idea about exploration including botany, and curiosity about the man himself.
My own kids made their first 'discovery' of Cortez when they read Keats' poem: On First Looking into Chapman's Homer
Much have I travell'd in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
That deep-brow'd Homer ruled as his demesne;
Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He stared at the Pacific—and all his men
Look'd at each other with a wild surmise—
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.
This last stanza was quoted in one of the Swallows and Amazons books by Arthur Ransome (AO did not then exist, but it is now one of our free reads)- it caught my kids' attention and we looked it up to learn about the poem, the poet, and the people and places he is referring to. Education is not a catalog, it is a discipline, an atmosphere, and a life, and this is how it continues- like circles on a pond or a game of association, a new thing suggests another new thing, and children who have learned to keep their native curiosity go on learning forever. ( I just sidetracked myself looking up multiple references to Ponce de Leon because he was once governor of Darien and may in fact be who Keats should have named instead of Cortez, but perhaps it would have altered his rhyme scheme?)
The atmosphere Mason speaks of is the one we have, the people we are, the home and culture we create when we bring a family together and grow together- so be sure to incorporate that into your days and lives as well, as you discover your own realms of gold in which to travel.
Sunday, February 2, 2020
Poetry (Winnie the Pooh, reciting for grandparents, fourth grade poetry book given to me for Christmas when I in the hospital)
Hymns: acapella tradition, sang hymns at homes and on long car trips.
Classical music- we didn't listen to the radio, but my dad had a number of records (yes, I am so analog), all of them classic. We also had a handful of folk songs in our family repetoire.
Nature study: My grandmother majored in Botany in the 1920s, when not that many women went to college. She always showed us the plants and wildflowers on our walks and told us their names.