School is Uncool(?)

I didn’t spend time in a classroom until college, and the first real test I ever took was the SAT, but last year I found myself standing at a blackboard for the first time, writing an assignment in the biggest, most even letters I could manage. I found myself saying, “If you have a question or a comment, please raise your hand.”

I teach a group of eight-year-olds. It isn’t public school, it’s religious school. I’m an atheist, but I’m also a lay clergy member, so I guess I’m pretty qualified, if you look at it from a certain angle, in a certain light. My students are really smart. Some of them think they’re much smarter than I am, and it isn’t irrefutably clear that they aren’t. These kids are, for the most part, private schooled Manhattanites, and they wear clothes so stylish that sometimes I find myself making a mental note: “Riding boots with skinny jeans, long-sleeved shirt, and red knit vest,” even though I probably won’t end up coughing up the money for boots that nice.

But the biggest difference between my students and me is not that they dress better and have drier wits and snappier sarcastic comebacks. It’s that they care a lot more about being cool. I guess the other things are symptoms of that caring. At eight, they are already looking around to make sure no one thinks they’re lame or weird.

They’re looking at each other all the time. They can hardly spare . . . → Read More: School is Uncool(?)

Little homeschooler’s first McDonalds

Just a quick note, before I talk about the important, seldom-examined relationship between alternative education and fast food: I’m jumping up and down with joy (i.e. sitting at my computer and smiling a lot) about starting a series of guest posts over at The Innovative Educator. You can read the first one here. Thank you to Lisa Nielsen for the opportunity!

My mom has always been a big believer in healthy eating. Way before the Brooklyn hipsters were becoming vegans and those little raw food places were sprouting up all over Manhattan, she was growing a garden and refusing to allow processed foods into the house. Before people were carrying bags made out of recycled fibers that said “GO GREEN! GREEN IS SEXY” on them, my mom was using canvas shopping bags. Before CSAs were popular, she had joined one, and we were in the field, picking string beans for hours and hours, with the sun smirking and beating down on us.

We ate stuff that resembled normal foods. Things with normal-sounding titles, like “bagel,” and “ketchup,” and “palak paneer.” What? Doesn’t everyone eat palak paneer? The bagels were gray and lumpy and dense. The ketchup wasn’t anywhere close to red, and you could taste the old tomatoes in it. Tomatoes that had lived a long, full life and died surrounded by family and friends. Tomatoes that had never really been beautiful, even in their youth, but had always had a lot of character. You could always taste all the . . . → Read More: Little homeschooler’s first McDonalds

What I’m not saying

Sometimes when I write about homeschooling, people think what I’m saying is “School is terrible in every way. All school buildings should be burned down!”

Sometimes they think I’m saying, “Homeschoolers will take over the world! We are the chosen ones!”

Sometimes it comes across as, “Every moment of my life as a homeschooler has been perfect.”

(I don’t want this to happen to all of them. Even though they’re creepy. Source.)

I am not saying any of these things. I don’t want to burn anything down. Even having lit decorative candles around the house makes me kind of nervous. Which is unfortunate, because I have somehow ended up with a lot of decorative candles.

I think it’s like breastfeeding, a little. You know, when a woman is breastfeeding, people often think it’s this big political statement. And there are all these articles in which women are yelling at other women, saying stuff about how all women who breastfeed are out-of-control hippie liberal harpies, or all women who formula feed are ignorant, tragic lost souls. So that after a while, a woman can’t just give her baby a bottle or a nipple without it being this giant declaration of allegiance to one of two bristling, battle-ready camps.

. . . → Read More: What I’m not saying

Homeschool Prom

It’s not true. Just because you’re homeschooled doesn’t mean you don’t get to go to prom. I did. I went to the homeschool prom. I was sixteen. That might not be the right age for prom, but no one told me I couldn’t go. I wore a red dress, with a brown leaf pattern on it. I wore my hair back in two butterfly clips. I put on red lipstick, and I thought I looked very sexy. I was with my best friend Emily. She was wearing red lipstick too, and a red dress. We spent most of prom in the basement, trying to convince other homeschoolers who wandered down for the bathroom to give us some spare change, so that we could call for a ride home.

Homeschool prom was a bust. The DJ was playing the soundtrack from The Lion King, there were only about four boys there (do schooled boys ever really want to go? Or is it the girls who drive the prom machine?), and we didn’t know anyone except for each other.

(maybe if I’d worn this it would’ve gone differently? source)

We knew plenty of homeschoolers. We hung out in a group of them that contained maybe ten other kids our age and a lot more who weren’t. But they weren’t the prom kids. We thought the prom kids might be Christian homeschoolers. They looked pretty blond, in general, and pretty modestly dressed. We had nothing to say to them and they had . . . → Read More: Homeschool Prom

Growing up without bullying

This article was originally published on The Huffington Post*:

There’s been a rash of suicides recently. Gay teenagers killing themselves after being bullied, often for years, by their peers. Dan Savage spearheaded the “It Gets Better Project.” President Obama joined the campaign, making a PSA in which he urges gay kids not to give in to despair. He says, “We’ve got to dispel the myth that bullying is just a normal rite of passage — that it’s some inevitable part of growing up. It’s not. We have an obligation to ensure that our schools are safe for all of our kids.”

How did that myth find roots? How did the idea that bullying is somehow justifiable gain purchase?

Maybe there’s just too much of it. Maybe it feels unstoppable. That’s just what kids do, and when you put so many of them together, day after day, then that’s what will happen. In their twenties, some my friends still recall the horrors of middle school with a quiet solemnity, in voices better suited for telling ghost stories. Some of my friends shrug it off. “Yeah, I got picked on. Who didn’t?”

Of course, it depends on where you went to school, to some extent. The private schools were able to be more protective of their students. People weren’t getting beaten up, but they weren’t comfortable, either. They weren’t really safe. I knew a girl who cried out of frustration because her family wasn’t rich enough. She would never have the right . . . → Read More: Growing up without bullying

I liked it

Everyone is talking about education. Waiting for Superman, budget cuts, teen suicides, charter schools, healthier school lunches, colleges flooded with applications, student debt, student loans that go forever, elite preschools, KIPP, abstinence only sex ed, gay kids at prom, no child left behind, teachers’ unions, rubber rooms, standardized testing, teacher suicides, cutting music and art classes, where it all is going, what we might be able to do, whether we should do it, and if it really works at all. And then there are the people who drop out. The people who don’t start in the first place. People like me. We’re still a tiny minority–about 3% of the population, according to some studies (the exact numbers are never really clear). But we have a lot to say about education.

This is my second blog. The first is called Eat the Damn Cake, and it focuses on body image and being a young woman in a world of delicious food and enormous pressure to be thin. I talk about homeschooling there, too, but I want to go further with the topic. So here I am.

I was homeschooled. I write it as one word. Maybe I was unschooled, because we didn’t use many textbooks. But there were a few. I use “homeschooled” because people recognize it as a thing. I use “unschooled” to differentiate from 80% of the people who educate at home for religious reasons. I’m not passionate about either. The point is, I did not go to school.

. . . → Read More: I liked it


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