Bad at gaming the system

After reading the last post, my father-in-law sent me an article about homeschoolers that Business Week published a few years ago. He said the homeschoolers he’d heard about and come into contact with before me seemed more like the ones Business Week described.

Homeschoolers who are gaming the system. Homeschooling families that are producing super-genius kids who get into Harvard when they’re fifteen and go on to govern small but precocious island nations in preparation for the time when they can achieve world dominance.

My family definitely did not have that much of a plan.

Homeschoolers fall into a lot of different categories, which is confusing for everyone, including me. It’s kinda like Jews. Many non-Jews might think of “the Jews” as a single entity. After all, we’re a very, very numerically minor group. How different could we possibly be? Let’s just say that there are plenty of extremely observant Jewish men who would never speak to me, let alone consider me Jewish. I mean, I wear shorts in the summer and show off my naked legs. I sing on the bima, which isn’t even permitted by very strict interpretations of our tradition. My mother converted. I married a non-Jew.

(I’m scandalous like that. source)

But I am Jewish. I don’t think there are degrees of Jewishness. You are or you’re not. There are a lot of other opinions out there, and most of them come from other Jews.

At least no one can tell me, “You weren’t really homeschooled. Real homeschoolers always have a blackboard in their living room.”


But they can dramatically misinterpret my life, based on other information they have about what it means to be a homeschooler.

They might assume, for one, that I am a devout Christian. That’s a pretty easy assumption, since most homeschoolers are. Or that my parents both have a background in teaching. Plenty of homeschooled parents do, and even if they didn’t, this would be a common assumption based on the way people understand learning. They can guess that my family has strong hippie sensibilities and that there was probably a farm involved in my upbringing. (My mom was into organic everything and lots of recycling when I was growing up. My dad could not have cared less. I have seen him with my own eyes putting a plastic milk carton in the garbage pail.) Or that I’m a math prodigy who can rip through a calculus textbook in about a half hour, while eating lunch. If they guess that, they probably also think I’m amazing at spelling.

(looks like  a pretty decent place to grow up. source)

I grew up with a lot of musical prodigies. The homeschool community I participated in was full of them. My brothers were two of them. I tried. I performed a solo recital at fourteen, and there were some relatively big pieces on the program. But nothing huge. And I lost my place halfway through the closer and had to drop my left hand out for like ten measures. I wanted to die. But I didn’t die. And these days I wonder why I thought being good at piano was so important, anyway (I wrote about this a little in my piece about Amy Chua).

But the sense I got from my family and the other homeschooled families I knew was not that kids should practice their instruments endlessly until they were world-class, but that we should pursue the things that interested us in a serious way. And if music interested us, we should go to a lot of concerts and practice, and audition for orchestra and chamber groups. We got good at things because we liked doing them.

And not many of them were incredibly practical.

I kind of wish, actually, that my parents had made me start a lot of little companies as a kid. I probably would’ve started Facebook instead of that Zuckerberg kid. That would be pretty sweet.

(he even looks a little like me. source)

My dad gets a little offended when I say stuff like that. He’s an entrepreneur, after all. He knows all about starting and running companies. He says, “I tried to teach you! You weren’t interested!”

OK, it’s true. He sat me down and we read books about finance together, and he tried to explain how his business worked, and I even apprenticed at his office a few times. It was really, really boring.

So I went back to painting and writing fantasy novels and competing in poetry slams. And no one told me that was a waste of my time. They told me, “Keep going! You’re good at this!” So I did.

I don’t think that counts as gaming the system. It’s more like…hmm…having fun. You know, in a serious way.

I think kids should have fun. I think kids learn a lot while they’re having fun. I think it’s really important for kids to learn that it’s fun to learn. That was a fun sentence to write.

But as a result, I don’t know where I fit into the spectrum of homeschoolers. I am also not sure how determinedly I should encourage my future children to learn HTML and internet marketing strategies and all of the other skills they will need to design tech-startups. Maybe they’ll just be interested in programming on their own. That would be convenient.

*  *

Thanks, Bob, for inspiring this post! Maybe someday you’ll write a guest post for this blog about being a famous law professor…  :)

For one pretty amusing portrayal of homeschooling, check out this YouTube video. Thanks for sending it to me, San D!

15 comments to Bad at gaming the system

  • […] New post at Un-schooled, about how I wasn’t one of those homeschoolers who gamed the system. […]

  • Great post! There are indeed many, many kinds of homeschoolers. I was the Christian with teaching-background-parents kind, but we didn’t live on a farm (though Mom has chickens now…) and did not sew our own clothes or always wear dresses (like a rather large percentage of our acquaintances). We weren’t child prodigies at anything. While we all had to TRY the piano, we were allowed to quit after a year if it didn’t suit us (my sister and I liked it; my brother and other sister did not).

    A neighbor family had their 13- and 16-year-olds open a candy store. Like an actual business downtown. To my knowledge, the now 20-somethings still own and run it. Another family had their girls buy stock with their monthly allowances (but then never encouraged them to do anything besides get married…which they’ve almost all done).

    I always enjoy reading. Keep it up. 😀

  • Jen

    I freaking love this blog! My kids are outside playing in the snow right now while the schooled kids are trudging home after a long, long day. Some days they make it outside too (after homework and activities) and my kids have a lot of fun playing with them, but it doesn’t happen very often. I feel sad for those schooled kids sometimes. They are missing so much!

    My kids went to school for a while, but they’ve been home for a couple of years. I am thrilled to have found your blog because it makes me laugh out loud, nod my head vigorously, feel better about my decision to have them learn at home, and much more that I will save for future comments.

  • Marina

    But what if I try to force my future children to learn how to rule island nations when they’re actually destined to invent the first time machine? What if I teach them programming but while they’re busy doing that someone else becomes the next great international bestselling author sensation? How are we supposed to choose between all the different improbable ways to rule the world??? 😉

    The sentence “I think it’s really important for kids to learn that it’s fun to learn” was fun to read too.

  • I love this post… it’s true about the assumptions. Although, I a Christian… and we do live on a big piece of property (though, not a ‘farm’) and I do educate our three kids at home… and most of the time we just weave learning into the every day. And odd – our kids are hugely ahead in all areas of ‘said’ achievement.
    For me, it’s more about fostering their EQ than their IQ. And I think that’s what a lot of people miss. Their kids may be ‘smart’, but, they lack in the more important areas of people skills, compassion, purpose. And yes, HOMESCHOOLED kids are usually doing BETTER with their empathy and social skills. WEIRD. eh? 😉
    Brava – I love your writing.

  • Kika

    It is rather funny when people ask me how “homeschooling is done”, thinking that we all “do” things the same way. When I attempt to explain that every homeschool family I know looks very different from the other, eyes begin to glaze over. It is like they cannot comprehend that we are able to think for ourselves, figure things out for ourselves, actually create a life that works for our own personalities/goals/interests and those of our children rather than just following status quo.

  • Pam

    What I love the most about our homeschooling experience so far is that my daughter taught herself to read playing Mario Bros. video games. Also, she never comes to me and says, “I’m bored.” Most days I go looking for her to ask if I can read aloud to her because I’m the one that’s bored.

    • Sounds a bit like my household. :) I hate it when I have to ask the kids to put their projects on hold because I have to do laundry, or take a call, or fix dinner. I guess they are learning social skills then, like patience, compassion and empathy. !!!!

      I am so glad I don’t homeschool like what was presented to me as homeschooling when I first encountered it. :) the Mom was using ABEKA with her kid and getting up at 6am and going on until 3pm. Makes me tired and bored just thinking of it.

  • We’ve been homeschooling for just over 2 years. Of course we are concerned about our kids’ futures, but we live in the here and now. Homeschooling works for us NOW, it’s fun and interesting NOW, and we get more family time and less stress NOW. One of the things I disliked about public school was the constant preparation for the future: you will need to know this for the test, you will need to know this next year, you need to get used to be bored and stressed so you’ll be ready for the workforce, etc. My kids are bright, but I’m not pushing them to be little geniuses because we wouldn’t have time for fun NOW!

    I’ve seen that video before and it always cracks me up. We’re involved in two huge homeschooling groups in our state, and I honestly don’t know anyone like that family! Still, the stereotypes persist…

  • Stephanie Rowland

    I think maybe if you force someone to learn something, they learn to hate learning. Schooled kids learn to hate learning at such a young age. Unschooled kids are joyously learning anything they want and using their youth so much more wisely.
    I just found your blog and I LOVE IT! You really comfort my daughters. They now know they are normal.

  • Hi Kate,

    I love reading your blog. And absolutely love this post. I started homeschooling my now 9 and 5 year old children last year. Unfortunately, we live in a city not a farm:)

    One of the things I hated about my kids going to school was having the teachers decide what they can learn. And also having the teacher labeled my son ‘hyperactive’ just because at around 3 plus, he refused to just sit still and listen to the teacher at PLAYSCHOOL!

    I so agree with you that we should pursue things that interest us in a serious way. When my daughter was in school, she hardly had time to play her violin or to dance, the two things she’s passionate about. Yet, I always tell my kids that they should only do things that make them happy.

    Kate, you’ve further strengthen my belief that I made an awesome choice to unschool my two beautiful kids. Thanks heaps!

    P.S when you said, “But I am Jewish. I don’t think there are degrees of Jewishness. You are or you’re not. There are a lot of other opinions out there, and most of them come from other Jews.” This made me laugh til i peed in my pants! I could so relate! In my country, if one is born to a particular race, he/she is automatically Muslim (no 2 ways abt it). When my daughter was in school one of her teachers told her to quit rhythmic gymnastics cos she was wearing leotards and showing off her curves (mind you she was 8 then, and as Asian she’s quite tiny)! The teacher even suggested my daughter wear lose leotards. LOL! I guess, we are scandalous like that too!

    You are awesome, Kate!

  • […] I think maybe I cheated the system. I’m not sure (check out my post on how bad I am at cheating the system). […]

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