The college test: does homeschooling work?

Daniel Petter-Lipstein’s guest post from this blog got featured on Forbes! How cool is that? I feel famous by proxy.


“I don’t think homeschooling was great,” my brother Jake was saying. He’s twenty-one, at conservatory, about to audition for a major orchestral position (I’m sorry, I can’t help it. I brag every time I talk about either one of my brothers).

“You get used to knowing things.”

He was talking about college courses.

He said, “You come in knowing the basics, and then you don’t listen in class, because it’s boring. And then later, they get to the hard stuff, and the school kids were following along the whole time, but you weren’t.”

It was honestly the first time I’d heard anything like that. It’s supposed to be homeschoolers who don’t learn the basics, right? That’s what everyone is afraid of, anyway.

“You don’t learn how to memorize things,” he said. “You learn to learn things. It’s different. It’s a problem. That’s why homeschooling doesn’t work.”

. . . → Read More: The college test: does homeschooling work?


I started tutoring twelve-year-olds when I was fifteen. I took it very, very seriously. I spent a lot of time thinking about my technique, methodology, and effectiveness. I wrote in my journal about whether or not I thought my students were learning everything I wanted them to learn. I was nervous. I was afraid I might fail them. Around my seventeenth birthday, I had an epiphany. It felt big, at the time, like all of my seventeen year old epiphanies did.

I told myself, “If I know even a little bit more about something than someone else, I have something to offer that person.”

I didn’t have to be brilliant, or masterful, or even totally thorough. I just had to know something, and be able to convey it to someone else. And I had to be nice while I was conveying it. Otherwise everyone had a lot less fun.

. . . → Read More: One-on-one

Homeschool unit studies

In case you missed it here for feel like reading it there, here’s my story about learning disabilities on HuffPo. Also, I’m talking about virginity over at Eat the Damn Cake today, and there’s a bit about being homeschooled.

The kids in Hebrew School were learning about the Revolutionary War. They had a unit on it. That meant they’d spend a long time, months even, on the topic.

My brother Jake heard about it, and he wanted to study the Revolutionary War, too. Mom was excited. She loved learning about, well, everything. Little Gabe seemed fine with it. I was less excited, because I knew I was going to have to look at a lot of old guns.

And I was. And I did.

Every day, we all got together and read about the war. No, not just the war. What was going on before the war. Historical fiction about and from the perspective of just about everyone who was there at the time. Generals, spies, Native Americans, hog farmers, small-time clergy members, shopkeepers, black kids, white kids, British kids, the Hessians, the people who were terrified of the Hessians, indentured servants, Quakers. I’m going to stop now. We had a few text books that we referenced, a bunch of maps, several cookbooks, and a calendar full of trips to Philadelphia, historic sections of Boston, where the streets had real cobblestones, and nearby Trenton, where the old barracks were preserved. There were a lot of rusted, heavy . . . → Read More: Homeschool unit studies


Are homeschooling parents qualified to teach their children?

It’s a question that likes to jump out of the bushes and ambush unsuspecting homeschoolers on their way to the Shoprite or the library. I’m kidding. We’re always “suspecting” it. I got it a lot as a kid. People always asked me if my mother had a teaching degree. Actually, my mother didn’t go to college, but I usually didn’t say that. I was afraid someone’s brain might explode if I did. Sometimes I told the asker that she’d studied child psychology. Well, she had. On her own. When I got a little older I said things like, “She doesn’t really teach us. That’s not how it works.”

At which point I was either asked to solve a math equation on the spot or greeted with a completely uncomprehending look and a quick, anxious nod. Did that child just tell me that she doesn’t have to be taught? Dear Lord, what have they done to her?

. . . → Read More: Qualifying

Learning Disability

I believe in disabilities. I mean, I don’t think they’re an invention of a cruel, capitalistic, oppressive system. People are all different, and some of them have a lot more trouble with things that are basic for the majority of other people. But a lot of learning disabilities make me suspicious. And sometimes they just make me really sad.

When kids aren’t learning to read on time, for example, there’s a lot of panic. And there shouldn’t be, because kids learn to read at very different points. Some kids don’t learn to read until they’re fourteen, and then they read like everyone else. And no one can tell that they were a kid who didn’t read until they were fourteen.

Kids are like that with learning in general. Not every eight-year-old brain is ready to absorb the information that a nationally approved 3rd grade curriculum demands it process. And then what happens when they don’t learn it on time? They learn that they are “slow.” They might get left behind.

I remember in Hebrew School when I was twelve there was this funny kid named Seth who was nice to everyone. He made everyone laugh with his antics. He was good at making ridiculous faces. He was good at people. And one day the teacher said, “We’re going to go around the room and each take a paragraph.” We were reading a story about the biblical Jacob and his very large family.

I showed off, because I was an obnoxious . . . → Read More: Learning Disability

Being friends with older people

I’m not going to lie– I think it’s weird to hang out with a bunch of people exactly the same age as you all the time. And I think it’s weird because I didn’t have to do that. Most people think it’s normal. And they think it’s weird to hang out with people who aren’t exactly the same age as you. Especially if you’re a kid.

When I was sixteen, my circle of close friends included a woman in her fifties, a woman in her forties, a woman in her eighties, and a girl who was ten. It also included some sixteen and fifteen and seventeen-year-olds. It also included my brothers. But I was careful not to call the ten-year-old my “friend” in mixed company. Or the eighty-two-year-old. Because then I might have to explain my life to everyone. And that gets annoying.

(my youngest friend and I. I think she’s 13 or so here. Kaila– you owe me a guest post!)

And then sometimes I called them both my friends in public anyway, defiantly, just because I could. That’ll show them! That show the whole world. Yeah, I was a rebel.

. . . → Read More: Being friends with older people

Being sensitive

I’m sensitive. I did an interview with a really famous guy yesterday and at one point he got annoyed at me for a question I asked. His tone changed. He got a little defensive. I laughed and said, “Let’s move on.”

I was proud of myself after. Proud because it hadn’t even bothered me. Which is maybe a little embarrassing to admit. I mean, why should it have bothered me?

“I’m sensitive,” I told my mom last night. We were at dinner, at Dovetail, on Columbus and 76th, which is always way too warm, but has the only alcoholic drink I’ve liked so far: pear cider (I’m a wimp).

She laughed. “Well, yeah.” And then she told me about how I used to cry when my parents read me a book about a barking dog. The idea of the dog barking was upsetting. That is seriously sensitive. She said I used to cry, as a little kid, when someone spoke in a harsh tone to me. “Put that down, now.”

My brothers were not like this, so anyone who wants to blame homeschooling for making kids soft and wimpy and namby-pamby (how is that even an expression?) can just not even start.

. . . → Read More: Being sensitive


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