I was an experiment

I think maybe I’m not anymore.

But I was an experiment.

No one was really sure how homeschooling would work out when my parents decided to give it a go. I mean, there were a few kids who had made it through, like the Colfaxes up on the farm in Northern California, who trotted off to Harvard after mastering all that goat herding and fence building. I don’t think my parents expected me to go to Harvard. Actually, I know they didn’t.

(This picture makes me really jealous of the Colfaxes. source)

I am the first born. It sounds a little epic when you write it (and when you put it in bold). Like there’s probably a prophecy somewhere about me and how I’ll save the world from Voldemort or something. Which I feel like there probably isn’t, because I haven’t had to learn any magic yet, and I’m getting kinda old for that sort of thing.

My brothers had it easier. By then, it seemed like homeschooling was working reasonably well, even though there was no real evidence that I had learned any math.

I am very cutting edge. You know, I’m part of a tiny group of grown unschoolers who are out in the world, doing stuff. Being people. Succeeding wildly. OK, maybe not that last bit. But I’m not sitting for hours on end in Grand Central Station, either, staring at the enormous clock in the hopes that eventually I’ll learn to tell time.

We used to make fun of each other (us homeschoolers), saying, “Can you tell time yet? Can you tie your shoes?” We were aware that everyone expected there to be big, obvious gaps in our educations. Even our parents thought there might be. Because we were an experiment, and no one could really be sure what would happen.

It was pretty clear from very early on, I’m sure, that I was no Colfax boy. First of all, I’m a girl.  I liked dolls a lot. I liked reading fantasy novels, not classic literature. In fact, I hated classic literature. How embarrassing is that? For my parents. For me, even now. I still get this urge to lie and say that I loved Dickens and Dostoyevsky as a child. I read them. And I read The Scarlet Letter and The Count of Monte Cristo, and The Old Man and the Sea, and everything else kids are supposed to read. I even disliked Pride and Prejudice at the time. It took me years and years to appreciate this stuff.

I was just being me, but it must’ve been nerve-wracking for my mom. She may have been wondering, “When is any of this going to stick?” Or “There is a distinct possibility that the girl will NEVER be able to add two numbers together.”

She was pretty polite about it in front of me. But sometimes I saw the fear in her eyes. She was afraid she was doing me a disservice. She looked nervous about her decision. It was a big, big decision after all.

But I never minded being an experiment. It was enormous amounts of fun. People always asked me if homeschooling was good for me. Like, “How’s it going?” As though at nine I’d look up, cock my head like a little bird and chirp, “Well, I don’t  know. The free time is lovely, but I feel like I’m not acquiring sufficient fundamental information about European History.”

Are you kidding me? I was actually thinking, “I’m building a giant raft that’s gonna float on the pond!” And stuff like that. Which worked out pretty well for me, in the end. Because I now build the ships that the world depends on for efficient bulk product transportation.

(I couldn’t find a picture with a girl in it. source)

OK, no. Building a raft didn’t inform my eventual career. But because I had a lot of fun as a kid. And a lot of time to keep having fun. And no one to tell me I was weird and funny-looking and bossy (all of which was true). And without all that, I don’t know where I’d be. But I’m pretty sure I like it better here.

So I don’t really mind that my life has been a massive experiment. Any experiment that involves that many fantasy novels and late mornings in bed seems like an amazing idea. Even now.

This post also appears on The Innovative Educator.

23 comments to I was an experiment

  • […] Post on Un-schooled about how pretty much my whole life has been a big experiment. […]

  • Oh how I love how your posts reassure me in my own experimenting in parenting.

  • Hi Kate,

    Fantasy novels ARE classic literature! Well, some of them anyway. I’ve learned to have a lot of respect for people who can say, “Les Miserables? Don’t know a thing about it, but I really love [insert title I’ve never heard of before]”. So I don’t think you should feel bad about that.

    I’m a divorced father of a 13-year-old girl (“AJ”), and I’d love her to quit school because I think it’s destroying her love of learning. We (me, AJ’s mom, and I) are sort-of in negotiations about how to make that work.

    Good luck to you!

    • kate

      Unfortunately, I favored the novels with a fierce female protagonist. And none of those counted as even remotely classic :)But they did count as awesome! I was mad at Tolkien as a girl, for not talking about girls enough. I’m trying to get over it.

      Good luck to YOU, with your daughter! I hope you and your family can work out a situation that enables her to learn more freely. If you need more information about alternative education of any kind, please let me know. I’m not an expert, but I know people who know a lot more than me, and I’m always happy to help!

      • I, too, don’t particularly care for Tolkien, partly for the same reason — hardly any strong women. Fierce female protagonists totally rock, and I’m not just saying that to be agreeable. I like characters that break gender stereotypes. Give me Holly Lisle or Glen Cook or Anne McCaffrey. Or Samuel Delany. Are there any particular authors you’d recommend?

        Thanks for your kind words of support regarding unschooling :-) Neither AJ or her mom is totally comfortable jumping into complete unschooling. But AJ is definitely not happy in school. Actually AJ’s older siblings were home-schooled (but not unschooled) for most of their early years, but both chose to attend public high school. We tried a more traditional home-school situation with AJ for 6th grade, after 5 years of Montessori and public school; but it was not hugely successful. In fact AJ decided she wanted to go back to public school in 7th grade. I think part of the problem was that we tried to have a “curriculum”, but we weren’t very good at it; which was a recipe for disappointment for both AJ and us, her parents/”teachers”. AJ is a pretty strong-willed person, and trying to *make* her do anything usually doesn’t work too well. (Appeals to justice and fairness are more effective, so she can be convinced to clean up after herself and so forth.)

        One thing we’re thinking about doing, is that every month AJ’s mom and I will each suggest one book for her to read, and she’ll suggest to each of us a book to read (maybe different books for different parents, or not — it’s up to AJ). And all we need to do is be able to have an informed discussion about those books.

        Sorry for the extra-long comment!

        • kate

          I think the book idea is great. I always loved Robin McKinley as a child. And Tamora Pierce, when I was very young.

          My youngest brother also chose to go to school. Sometimes not having enough structure is incredibly hard. The thing that frustrated me the most about being homeschooled was that my mom tried to make my life a lot more structured than I thought it needed to be. But in her defense, she needed some more evidence that I’d acquire all the basic information I was “supposed” to. It’s not an easy position for a parent to be in.

          Your family sounds interesting!

      • C Baker

        Then you may want to try out Hilari Bell. The Goblin Woods (and sequels) is a pretty good place to start.

  • Kristin

    Just the title of this post made me laugh because sometimes I view my own homeschooled kids as an experiment, too. :-) But really, isn’t traditional school an experiment? IMO that’s why testing exists – the school is looking to see if students are learning (or the curriculum is appropriate, or the teachers are teaching effectively, or etc…). If administrators *knew* their students were learning, they wouldn’t have to test them, right? 😉

    • kate

      Yes! That’s a good way to look at traditional school. The thing is, since everyone’s doing it, it feels automatically safer. Also, there are all sorts of official, authoritative people involved :)

  • Regina

    When we (my husband and I) first started to talk about the idea of homeschooling, our reasons were many. We didn’t like the public school system or the politics of the school itself. The bullies, the lack of one-on-one education, the extra-large classrooms, etc…etc…etc. When we pulled our then 6 year old out of public school we were terrified of the emotional and educational consequences. I was willing to put in 8 hours a day with my children to educate them. Then, as we completed our first year of homeschooling, we came to the realization that we really did it just to be closer to each other. To spend our days with our children and not send them off to spend their days with someone else. I still try to put in a couple of hours a day of education, but recently I have slowed it down and we are simply enjoying our day. Not worrying about the multiplication facts getting memorized, or whether our five year old is going to read his first novel by the end of this summer.

    So, I like to consider our family an experiment too, an experiment on being a family again! Bringing it back to why we had our children in the first place. I know I had mine too love, laugh, grow and learn together! Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us!

  • Suzanne

    oh Kate…how do I love thee? Let me count the ways! You are a lovely delight and I very much enjoy everything you write. Keep it up…!!!

  • Marina

    I feel very lucky that I probably won’t view my eventual children’s education as an experiment. I talk to unschooling parents who are so worried about whether their kids will ever learn to read or count or whatever, and that’s just not a worry I will ever have. Yay for successful experiments.

  • Emelie

    In my family when we screw up or pull a stupid joke from our butt nobody finds humorous we have an exceptable excuse. “WE’RE HOMESCHOOLED!” we say in a deep, rather retarded voice. It never works.

    • kate

      Love it. You should hear my family around the dinner table…It’s total chaos. I try to make it sound a lot more civilized here, so as not to shock everyone.

  • casey

    Hi Kate!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    I stumbled on your website and I love it!!! I am a homeschooling mom
    and I have been laughing out loud over all the wonderful statements you’ve made in regard to homeschooling versus “attendance and testing schooling” you are totally on point. Further, I love, love, love the statements in regard to a child not being socialized and all that other ridiculous chatter! I truly think it’s very precious to hear how your mom loved being with you guys. I feel that way too, I love being with my kids, I had them, I wanted them and I want to spend as much time as I can with them. I want them to learn from me all the amazing information and life skills I have aquired and their dad too. I also want them to be able to pursue their own personal passions while learning what needs to be learned to in regard to the traditional subjects as well. I am sure that you know that your mom had to slay a lot of dragons for you guys. I am sending best wishes to your mom, for doing such a fantastic job on you and your brothers! I have 2 kids one in college and one still being homeschooled. Kate it’s changing, we are getting more pressure instead of less. I have to slay dragons more often with my second child than my first, but it’s worth it!!! Live long and prosper girl!!!! :)

  • Kate~
    You have a perfectly lovely blog. As an unschooling mom of 4 wonderful children it is nice to come across blogs about other children who were allowed to grow and learn to be exactly who they were meant to be. I think homeschooling in itself was an experiment and unschooling grew out of that experiment. Its simply what works for my family and I. Thanks for the fantastic glimpse into the experiment that was your childhood. I look forward to reading more about your life.

  • candi

    Just found this site– LOVE IT. I am thinking of homeschooling my son next year and this gives me such comfort learning about your parent’s “experiment”. Looking forward to reading more!

  • wanting so bad to revolutionize learning within public ed.
    these all comes up so very often..
    the big – what abouts:

  • I didn’t want to homeschool until I learned about unschooling. So we’re “experimenting” too and so far we love it! We include lots of unstructured time to play and imagine and create. Still, it’s reassuring to hear from an adult who learned in that way. Thanks for sharing!

  • Just found your blog via OMSH…I homeschool my 4 boys (8,9,11,13) and find myself sort of unschooling and sort of scheduled…I like to think of myself as a scheduled unschooler.

    My hubby is 37 and was HOMESCHOOLED in NJ growing up. He and his brother lived in the NJ Parks and lived too far away to any traditional schools so his parents petitioned the state to allow them to be homeschooled. There wasn’t much info available for his mom so she used some Calvert Academy stuff. They are both super smart and know a lot about everything! (M.D. and Financial Advisor)…Talk about experiments huh?

    I always wanted to be homeschooled in high school.It seemed like a natural fit to just school our boys at home and we love it. I think they will probably go to private school for some or all of high school if they want to.

    I’m enjoying your blog. Keep up the great writing!

  • That is definitely what it feels like being on the parenting end of it and homeschooling. I have not met any adults that were homeschooled and our first 4 years we did not have any community. The last 2 years though we joined a group and it has been much better. I made mistakes with my first that i didn’t make with my 2nd and now I am way more lenient. I agree with your mom. I love my kiddos and want to be with them as much as I can. They are both bright and witty and smart and well liked by people. Next year my daughter wanted to dive into a more unschooly type thing. So she will be my experiment. She is constantly rocking my world though and I gave her the choice as to what she wanted to do. She didn’t want to go to public school but was not happy with a curriculum either even though she could do it. And the thing about homeschooling I think they shoudl be happy. So next year we are changing gears or at least one of my kids. My older one wanted to stay with the curriculum that he was doing and says he is happy doing that. I am so glad a friend pointed me to your blog! It definitely makes me feel even better about the change for my daughter next year and that it will be “OK” 😉

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