Being unschooled is a little like being grown up

Except that I wasn’t allowed to have boys in my room. But I blame that on my individual family, and not on homeschooling.

Here are some of the ways that being unschooled is like being grown up:

You make your own choices.

You get to decide what interests you and then pursue that, or those things.

If you fail at something, you can start over, or start something else, or just decide to stop.

You make friends with adults.

. . . → Read More: Being unschooled is a little like being grown up

Making the grade

As a child and a teenager, I wasn’t graded. I could tell when I wasn’t doing something particularly well. That meant I had to work on it more. It felt a lot better being good at things, so I tried to do that as often as possible.

When I went to college, I got graded on everything I produced (except for the truly lovely sketches of mermaids, brick walls, and hanging lamps that soon embellished every notebook I used). I found out exactly where I ranked, compared with everyone else in every class I was taking. And then I knew exactly what I was capable and incapable of. Well, not exactly. I knew that every number I was given mattered. I learned very quickly to tie my identity and self-worth into those numbers. Even as I learned just how arbitrary the grading system really was.

Nobody could agree on what exactly the numbers and letters were supposed to signify. My expository writing instructor, an impossibly beautiful graduate student from Russia, failed everyone in the class on our first paper. I ran to the chair of the writing department, thrust three printed examples of my writing into her hands, and insisted that there had been a terrible mistake. She smiled at me patiently. “You’ll do fine. She’s just making a point. Wait it out.”

You had to work all night on seven short essays to get an A from my Gender and Spirituality teacher. In Abnormal Psych the grade rested on . . . → Read More: Making the grade

What is testing doing to our kids?

I don’t have any kids. I think I kind of still count as a kid myself. At least until next year, when I turn twenty-five. (Twenty-five sounds so solid and established! I’m scared!)

But when I ask the question it’s in the voice of America, not my own. As an American, I get to speak in the voice of America when I ask big questions like that.

A lot of people have been asking that question. One of them, a concerned mother and novice filmmaker named Vicki Abeles, made a film recently, called “Race to Nowhere,” about how incredibly stressful school has become for kids. And how the pressure to get into a very specific kind of college has become, in many areas, integral to pre-college education. The New York Times’ article “Parents Embrace Documentary on Pressures of School” reports on the film and the reaction it is inspiring all over the country.

(So. Scary. Source)

Are students learning how to pass tests, rather than how to retain and connect information? Well, probably. Colleges require more and more incoming students to take remedial classes, even when those same students got excellent grades in high school. My freshman year, the expository writing instructor gave the entire class an NP (non pass) on our first assignment.

“High school never prepares you for college,” she said, disgusted.

It does prepare you to get into college, though. At least at the high performing, affluent high schools where so many students seem on the . . . → Read More: What is testing doing to our kids?

3 Reasons why homeschooling rocks

There are more. I promise. But it’s easier to write when I think in threes, as opposed to, like, four-hundred-and-twenty-five’s. So I sat down at my laptop and asked myself “what are three reasons to homeschool?” and these were the first ones that came to mind. Which probably says something deeply revealing about my mind. But, as you know from the last post, therapy didn’t work out so well for me.

1. Your Plot is Continuous

When you watch a movie or read a book about a kid, they’re always going to school as the story is developing, but the story is almost never about them being in school. Even if it is about them being in school, it’s only because something really different is happening with their school experience (they’re learning how to be a wizard in their classes, they’re the first Jewish kid to attend a Catholic school, they’re being stalked by another student who is a zombie vampire). And even in these cases, the camera never spends much time in the classroom. In the stories we tell, school is what happens between the interesting parts. And yet school occupies most of a child’s time and is the scene for most of his/her stories. When you don’t go to school, your story opens up. It can’t be folded into the weekends or after homework or between class periods. It moves with everything you do, because anything you do has the underlying sense of adventure.

For example: when I . . . → Read More: 3 Reasons why homeschooling rocks

Homeschooler in therapy

I kinda lied. I suggested in the last piece that I’d never gone to therapy. Which is not entirely true. I went to the student counseling center in college for eight free sessions. (Maybe it was ten. That would’ve been nice of them.) Not because I’d been homeschooled and was still recovering from the trauma, but because I was really, really, really stressed out about getting into grad school.

My counselor, a young Californian with generously proportioned piercings in both ears and a soft, loving voice, smiled comfortingly and a little awkwardly at me through our first several sessions. I tried to find out what therapeutic school he fell into, but he seemed unhindered by any formal background in historical and current methods. He just wanted to listen to people, because people need to be heard. They need to be loved. I asked him if he was concerned that he might misunderstand a patient’s situation, that he might exacerbate a problem rather than assuage it. Nope. He felt fine.

I thought he was funny. I liked that he didn’t care about traditional techniques. I liked that he trusted himself and I thought I might be able to learn something from the tone of his voice. But when we got to the inevitable bit about me having been homeschooled, all hell broke loose.

This was an abnormality so excitingly self-evident that it couldn’t be missed even by someone who had skipped out on most of his abnormal psych classes to chill . . . → Read More: Homeschooler in therapy

New York: city of the thankfully weird

I was walking back from the grocery store, carrying two bags. I turned off Broadway and realized half a block later that I was singing to myself. It was a song that had been playing on the radio in the store. Or a song that had been playing on Pandora, back at my apartment. Or maybe it was a song I’d heard somewhere else without really noticing. The chorus jumped up, almost an octave, and it required a little passion to sing it effectively. A woman walked by, huddled into her coat. She didn’t even glance at me. A man walked by with two dogs. Neither he nor the dogs found anything about me noteworthy.

A woman wearing a leopard print hat walked by and caught my attention. It was really tall. But it wasn’t even close to the most creative fashion choice I’d seen that day. I live in New York City. The city where nothing is surprising anymore.

The other day, in Central Park, I walked by two men dressed in sparkling silver bodysuits with long, luxurious pink wigs. On matching silver bicycles with pink tasseled handlebars. Whatever. They didn’t even make it into the conversation I was having with a friend on my cellphone.

Yeah, it’s true. You can feel the sharp divide between the Upper East Side and the not-quite-Upper-East-Side below it. The people are suddenly whiter. The coffee shops feel comfortable charging three times more than Starbucks (which is already bad enough). The window displays . . . → Read More: New York: city of the thankfully weird

More on socialization

My last post is now on The Innovative Educator. Lisa Nielsen is becoming one of my favorite people in the world. And I’m meeting her in person tomorrow. Which is decidedly social.

I said in the last post that I feel like a social failure sometimes, because I am bored by groups of people, and I am content to be alone.

A reader (TheBanjer, from Romania) commented: Yeah, I guess that’s the main difference between homeschoolers and.. um, non-homeschoolers. For us, former high school kids, being alone feels a bit wrong sometimes, like we’ve failed or something, even if we know – rationally – that it is, in fact, not a big deal..

And in response, I want to add that I also feel like I’ve failed when I’m alone. But I feel like I’ve failed not because I’m alone, but because I want to be alone. As though my brain is wired incorrectly.

Everyone in the world has one question for homeschoolers. And that question is, “What about socialization?”

As a homeschooler, I had one main answer. Which was, “Hell yes! I do it ALL the time!”

My mom wanted me to do it all the time. She suggested that I invite friends over. She brought me to groups and signed me up for groups and made me go back to groups. She even formed groups for me to participate in. My mom is a very social person. She loves hanging out with other people. She has been leading . . . → Read More: More on socialization

5 things I learned about boredom from homeschooling

I remember the first time I was ever bored. It was at The Franklin Institute, in Philadelphia. I was sitting on the floor, and a man was delivering a lecture about geology to a group of us homeschoolers. I was probably seven or eight. He was holding up different rocks. He had been holding up rocks for an hour. He had a big plastic case with drawers in it. In each drawer was a rock. We were supposed to sit there and listen and listen and listen. A strange feeling crept over me. All I could think about was how much I wanted to leave. Time felt slow. I didn’t care about the rocks. Not even a tiny bit. I wasn’t sure how to distract myself. I wasn’t sure what to daydream about, because I actually didn’t have much experience with daydreaming.

(I’ll never be a geologist…source)

I think my relationship with boredom has been different from most people’s. Maybe this has a lot to do with the unique composition of my brain, my particular weirdnesses, and my unshakable penchant for peanut butter milkshakes. But more likely, it has to do with being homeschooled. I’m trying to figure out what I’ve learned about boredom. Here are five things:

1. Learning is not boring when it’s not called “learning.”

It sounds like a really un-catchy bumper sticker. But there’s a problem with how people define learning. Today I was walking down Broadway on my way to buy jelly donuts for . . . → Read More: 5 things I learned about boredom from homeschooling


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