The people who teach

This post also appeared on Huffpo here.

College orientation was depressing. At one of the events, I ended up at a table with a lot of other young women, eating a sandwich that I hadn’t realized was vegetarian when I picked it up. We were talking about what we wanted to be when we grew up. Which we were planning on doing as soon as we graduated.

Everyone except for me wanted to be a teacher. Wait–I think someone wanted to be a psychologist, actually. But everyone else wanted to be a teacher. I wanted to be a famous author who also played fierce rock music on a bright red Steinway concert grand for packed stadiums. So it’s not like I had my stuff together. The other girls were definitely practical. Except they didn’t seem that smart.

That’s a mean, judgmental thing to say.

But I said it, and I’m going to stand by it. They weren’t that smart. Maybe they were brilliant, secretly. Maybe they were kinesthetically intelligent. I don’t know.

One girl was saying, “Yeah, like, I just really, like, like kids, y’know?”

“Totally,” said another girl. “Kids are so cute.”

. . . → Read More: The people who teach

Mean People

Check out the guest post about mean kids, body image, and young daughters over at Eat the Damn Cake. I think it relates to some of the stuff over here pretty well.

When do you stop being a homeschooler?

Am I still a homeschooler?

I have a Master’s degree. I’ve taken a lot of tests. I’ve handed in a lot of homework. I’ve been out of grad school for a year. I work. I’m married. I live in an apartment with my husband. I’m not a student anymore.

When do you stop being a homeschooler? When people ask me for basic personal information, it doesn’t include, “What grade are you in?” or “Where do you go to school?” They ask me, “What do you do?” They ask me, “Where do you live?”


It seems like school is something everyone gets over. You grow up. You move on. You define yourself. Once in a while you think back and go, “I can’t believe I survived that.” Or “Those were the days…” But you’re mostly thinking about other stuff.

I still feel like a homeschooler. I think I might always be a homeschooler.

I think this is because my strange education feels relevant to everything. The way I think, the decisions I make, the things I’m good at, the things I’m terrible at, the way I understand my place in the world, the way I understand other people– it all starts with my education.


This is always true. Just like it’s always true that the way you think starts with your family. But for most people, family and education aren’t mixed together to the extent that homeschooling necessitates. And for most people, education doesn’t distinguish you from . . . → Read More: When do you stop being a homeschooler?

Best spam ever!

This has nothing to do with homeschooling. But it has to do with blogging about homeschooling. Or about anything.

If you’re on the fence about starting a blog, here’s some important information for you. Not only does blogging force you to organize your thoughts into something sort of coherent once in a while, but it provides you with access to some of the most diverting, creative spam the internet has to offer. I have saved fourteen of my favorite examples, all from this blog, and I’m sharing them with you today. If you are celebrating Christmas tomorrow, consider this my gift to you. Enjoy!

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2. I dont think some of these people are actually even reading this blog, it just seems like a bunch of random auto responses from bots, you should really moderate this better.

3. How am I able to order more of this product?

4. Hmmm this post is not really good. Can you comment me any related articles?

5. i agree, why jesus lets this go on is concerning

. . . → Read More: Best spam ever!

Writing Fantasy Novels

When I tell them that I was unschooled/homeschooled, people often ask me what I did all day. They want a detailed itinerary. They want to understand how it worked. The thing is, I can’t really remember that well. Mostly because days weren’t all the same. They weren’t structured neatly. They might sometimes start off structured and end up in the park with rollerblades. Or start off lazy and end up buried under a stack of astronomy books. Pretty much everything counted as learning. The major off-limits stuff was TV, Sweet Valley High books, and talking on the phone with friends. Napping was also out. And talking on the phone with friends was actually usually OK, as long as it didn’t continue for hours and hours.

As soon as I was old enough to form a cohesive plot, I started writing. Writing always counted. I could write for seven hours straight, and that would be a full day of successful unschooling. Before I was old enough to form a cohesive plot, mom helped me write in a journal every day. She pressed me to think of more expressive adjectives than “fun,” or “bad.” She suggested I try writing longer sentences. She checked my spelling. Every week she had my little brother and I memorize two poems and recite them to each other. I’m not sure why. Maybe she just liked poetry. We could pick any poems we wanted. He picked Shel Silverstein a lot. She also read books aloud to us . . . → Read More: Writing Fantasy Novels

It’s good to be weird

When you’re unschooled, you’re already weird. You’re weird from the start. Which can probably go one of two ways. You can get really nervous all the time about being different, and try really hard to fit in with the “normal” people. Or, more conveniently, you can get used to being weird, and just go with it. I think the latter approach is probably more common for a couple reasons.

1. You aren’t around a big group of your peers all the time, so who are you trying to fit in with anyway?

2. Pretending you’re just like everyone else is exhausting.

Kids spend a lot of time pretending to be like other kids. There’s this incredibly basic fact about people. It goes like this: We are all weird. If there’s one thing we have in common (other than a lot of biology), it’s that we’re all weird.

But it’s hard to accept.

Sometimes when I’m by myself, I start making faces. I’m thinking, and I’m scrunching my nose up and biting my lip and twisting my mouth and pulling on my hair. If I did all of these things on the subway, the people around me would probably think I was insane. Or disabled. Or something. Because that’s how sensitive we are about differences. We expect everyone to regulate their facial expressions. To speak in a certain tone of voice, at a certain volume. To hold their limbs in particular positions. You move your leg another quarter inch, you’re out . . . → Read More: It’s good to be weird

My mom is very organized

My mother recorded everything. She still does. She is a champion list-maker. Her lists have lists. They have footnotes and endnotes and bibliographies. She’s kept a diary since she was a girl, and now her closet is lined with boxes full of clothbound journals. Some of the covers are ugly—badly angled photos of cheap-looking floral arrangements, or little knobby prints of the same decorative teapot. They don’t describe her taste. This is because the covers are inconsequential, because the individual journals themselves are practically inconsequential. A single journal is like a single Borg person. It’s irrelevant on its own. From the time I was a baby, Mom kept a journal documenting my every move. If I twitched, or burbled, or wet my diaper, it was noted.

All of my first words (or at least some five hundred or so of them) were recorded dutifully. Mom didn’t curb her own vocabulary in order to communicate with me. She named my stuffed rabbit Pythagoras (I later disappointed both this rabbit and my mother by turning out to be hopeless at geometry), and explained that my big baby doll was called Augusta because it was the capital of Maine, which was in New England, where the climate supported both deciduous and coniferous woodlands. I stuck one hand down my pants and the other into the sunny side up egg on my plate and grinned.

(Pythagoras was cute. source)

. . . → Read More: My mom is very organized

Homeschooled math nerd

This is a guest post by Jessica Baumgaertel. I asked her for a bio, because I love bios:

After staying near home for college at the University of Washington, Jessica moved to NJ and is in her fifth year of the plasma physics Ph.D. program at Princeton. She volunteers with science education activities (such as the NJ Science Bowl). If she ever has children, she will probably homeschool them. She also likes to knit, run, bake, and hang out with her cat, Faraday. She blogs at Physikerin Knits.

I asked her to talk about math, and loving it, and being homeschooled, since I was homeschooled and hated math, and math is always the subject that grownups asked me about when they were trying to figure out whether or not homeschooling was a terrible idea. Here she is:

I loved being homeschooled. I loved to learn. I loved science. I loved to read. I didn’t particularly like to write, but it was okay. I loved the piano. I hated math.

Wait, you ask. What? This is post about LIKING math!

Okay, I only hated math until I was about 14.

It’s not that I couldn’t do math, I just didn’t enjoy it. My textbooks were boring. There were no pictures. The “story problems” were not nearly as riveting as my literature books. Fractions were a particular bane to my young existence. I have a vivid memory of sobbing to my dear, patient, frustrated mother that they were “completely useless”.

. . . → Read More: Homeschooled math nerd

Good college, bad college

People say “college” like it’s just a stage of life. You go somewhere called college, you party, you learn, you’re happy, and after that, for the rest of your life, you get to say things like, “Aw, man…college….” with a distant look in your eyes and a slow, wistful shake of your head.

But on a really basic level, there is good college and bad college. I know, because I went to both. I started out at a giant state school, and then I went to a small, Ivy League school. When people ask me about the state school, I usually defend it. I say, “You know, that kind of environment forces you to be self-sufficient. And there are some incredible professors. If you’re in the right department, it’s a great education, and you don’t go completely bankrupt after.”

(college. it doesn’t always look like this. source)

These things are all true. But I don’t mention the part about getting locked out of the dorm in the rain when I forgot my keycard by a big, mean guy who told me he’d let me in if I could prove that I wasn’t a thief. About my adviser retiring without anyone letting me know, and then receiving an email two months before graduation that stated I wouldn’t be able to graduate because my language requirement hadn’t been properly fulfilled. Or the night I called the campus police three times in a row because I couldn’t leave my room– there were . . . → Read More: Good college, bad college


My piece about “Race to Nowhere” is on Huffpo now.

When I was fifteen or so, I read Jerry Spinelli’s Stargirl, a book about a boy who falls in love with a strange and fascinating girl. Stargirl was homeschooled until she decided she “wanted to socialize,” and then she went to high school, where she played her ukulele in the cafeteria and wore gowns to class and didn’t understand why people made fun of her. She was my age, and she was bursting with love for the whole world.

I thought about writing to Jerry to let him know that he’d been pretty insulting to us homeschoolers. I knew what to wear! And I socialized plenty. At the same time, though, I kind of wanted to be Stargirl. She didn’t care about anything that her peers did, she just expressed herself, regardless of the results, because she knew who she was.

(I didn’t have a ukulele. source)

Mom was always finding classes for me to attend at the Arts’ Council of Princeton. I was already in an adult guided writing circle, and I’d just started a class in figure painting for high schoolers. The teacher was a young woman with long, straight hair and a placid, clear-eyed face. She looked like she never had to smile because nothing ever merited that extreme of a physical reaction.

Stargirl did badly in her classes. She didn’t understand the point of academics. I didn’t understand the point of academics . . . → Read More: Stargirl


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