The Year of Learning Dangerously by Quinn Cummings

When her middle-grade daughter doesn’t look as though she’ll ever master elementary math, Quinn pulls the trigger on herself and succumbs to the homeschooling she had half-toyed with in earlier years.  Mom chronicles the series of expeditions she sets out on in pursuit of first-hand insight into the different provinces of approach in homeschooling.  Apart from the trademark humor and her skillful writing, what I appreciate is her open-mindedness and the curiosity that never fails to reward.  Her action research takes her across the gamut of groups whose worldview has no congruity with hers, from unschooling hippies to the most insular fundamental Christians.  I like how the book closes a year’s trial in the new schooling – on a humble note of reposed uncertainty.  The different homeschool camps stake everything on their own philosophy and method.  But every child, every family is unique.  And along the way, life happens.  Quinn keeps it real.  The narrative is more about Mom’s movement through knock-kneed trepidation to creative resourcing, than it is about the student’s educational needs and strides.

Author response to the repeat question from her community on whether the family was going to continue homeschooling – from her final chapter:

In the extended dance remix, this question became: Are you going to continue to give Alice the benefits of one-on-one attention and open-ended time for self-discovery, to the possible detriment of her later ability to work in groups?  Or are you going to send her back to a public/private school and take the chance she’ll never develop a self-generated work ethic, but at least she’ll get some time away from your weirdness?  Of course, what some of them really wanted to know was: Quinn, will you ever wear real pants before noon again?  

I’d been asking myself the same questions.  The answer to all of them turns out to be: maybe.

I’m still nowhere near as confident about homeschooling as some of the parents I’ve met this year and I probably never will be.  This education we’re giving Alice is an experiment and not every experiment succeeds…but I feel considerably better about the choices we’re making.  Alice will learn and she will blossom and she will have friends.  If her current education stops working, I hope I will have the clarity to figure out what she needs and the fortitude to get it.  I’m pretty certain the options will grow wider and more interesting with each passing year.

I also know some lessons are best learned at a kitchen table and some lessons are best learned in a gymnasium, a lecture hall or a chemistry lab.  It would be nice if every student had better access to every option, and I anticipate that over the next decade they will.  For the first time in recent memory I’m looking at something that matters very, very much to me and feeling neither dread nor angst.  Oddly enough, I’m feeling optimistic.

It’s been an instructive year.

My Two Gold Cents in the Holistic Treasury

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