education, creativity, belief

Bee's picture
Tue, 11/01/2011 - 02:17 -- Bee

The other day my daughter mentioned to a university classmate that she was homeschooled, and the other student recoiled in shock and disgust.

My kid said "What? You are acting like I was raised by the Klu Klux Klan. I wasn't. Homeschooling is simply another form of education."

I would have said superior but really, the proof is in the pudding: this strange kitten I raised would appear to have all the required life skills, contrary to predictions of those who disagree with or discount unschooling. Not least the fact that she was accepted to a prestigious university. Where her performance generally exceeds that of her traditionally trained colleagues.

The early years were not easy, nor would I make the same choices if we had better options or more money. But this is what I had: a very bright, clinically hyperactive child, in a bankrupt school system. I worked within the existing framework where I could, swapping her in and out of enrichment programs, running parent associations, helping start charter schools. But none of the free or public options worked for my child, not least because her driving inherent commitment to justice is disruptive to petty tyrants and third grade teachers.

Homeschooling didn't really 'work' either, but at least she survived childhood with her natural exuberance intact. As she pointed out to her colleague "I just went roller skating. A lot."

This is fundamentally true, and a good summary of my educational philosophy. When pressed for details about her curriculum my daughter just shrugs and says that growing up with me is like being enrolled in a perpetual debating society. I apply the Socratic method to life in general; every meal is a seminar.

I dropped out of school at fourteen, had two kinds of cancer and a baby in my teens, but finished graduate school at twenty-two. I am married to a world class mathematician who cannot do arithmetic or algebra; he has a PhD but never finished junior high.

We were both reckless, rackety students, and it didn't matter at all. Or rather, we couldn't have done it any other way -- we didn't fit in, and we couldn't change. Our children are much like us, and so far. . . it doesn't matter.

The only thing that actually does matter? Belief. We imagined we could do it, no matter how often other people said no. And critically, we met the occasional trickster or helper who was willing to tell a crazy poor kid that they could change the world.

I'm not saying that education is important or necessary. In fact, I think that formal education is toxic unless or until people want to be there. Too many students are passive consumers, instead of active scholars.

But at the same time I think that there are many people with cracked brains and eccentric ideas who would excel in academia, if they had the chance. My daughter is one of those people and it has been an overwhelming lifelong struggle to help her get there. The baby who talked in full sentences, the toddler who could memorise and recite monologues, the child who had such severe behavioural 'challenges' she attended school for no more than two years, total? That kid is happier and more productive in her competitive university than any of the docile youth who knew how to sit still.

Whether or not she remains in academia is irrelevant; whatever career she chooses, whichever life she pursues, her education has served her well. She has an investigative mind and enough confidence to take her wherever she wishes.

If I ran the world, my very first policy change would be this: I would tell all the weird kids YES. Believe to achieve, fake it til you make it. There might be a lot of compromise and lashings of heartache, but what is the alternative? Despair? Death? Watching television? Follow your dreams where they lead, and if you want to do it, go to school.

Here are some tips I compiled for my offspring and occasionally force on friends:

1. If you are a weird kid, go to a weird school.
2. If you can't manage that, study a weird subject.
3. If you are a font of trivia, go to graduate school.
4. If you are a font of trivia and love to argue, do a PhD.
5. Get funded.
6. If you have trouble getting funded, ask everyone you know if they have ideas for resources. Apply for everything!
7. Repeat: apply for everything. Grants, assistantships, wacky summer programs, study abroad, whether you are 'eligible' or not. Whatever!
8. Never, ever date within your own field.
9. If the going gets tough, get creative! There are all sorts of unexpected sideways solutions. Life on the loser track might be easier: whether you are a dropout or a mature student or something more esoteric, keep asking for advice. There is almost always a solution. Look for the loophole, and jump through before it closes.
10. Don't give up the dream, give up the haters.


elienos's picture
Submitted by elienos on

Nice post! I hated school, dropped out of eight grade and ended up LOVING college and got an MA. I only had to take 2 remedial math classes, to be fully at college level. And college made me hate kid school even more. In college I learned how little they taught me in school. You know, I learned real history. And math was applicable to life, not rote memorization to try to teach kids things totally out of context that they don't have any use for. And teachers treated me respectfully. And I wasn't threatened with truancy officers. And why didn't I learn how to study in school?

Luckily, for my daughter, we found a school that is independent study, but offers optional classes twice a week which are very hands on. She does like classes and kids. But we do not have time in our life to let Public ED monopolize her education and socialization. We are just too busy doing cool stuff! And they wouldn't know what to do with her other than try to squish her into a box in which she doesn't fit.

mamanopajamas's picture

thank you, THANK YOU, thank you, Bee

another wonderfully written insight into life and parenting -- I wish I could "bookmark" this for days when I feel less than stellar doing home school with my weird kid ; )

and for myself when I think about college and higher degrees for myself

 "Do not speak--unless it improves on silence." ~ buddhist saying (wow - my email on file was so old - it was from the old hipmama email!)

Susan's picture
Submitted by Susan on

I love this. M1 is finding middle school a drag. History (which she loves and is fascinated by) is boring. Science(they're studying astronomy) is boring. Math is boring. It's not that she isn't challenged by what they're asking the kids to learn, they just seem to have squeezed all the life and interestingness out of them.

Our conversation about Washington state history went like this:
"it's boring."

What do you mean it's boring?

It's all about boring geography. Who cares where Centralia is?

Well, its geography means that it was a logical midway point between PDX/the Columbia and Seattle which was longer trip in the days before prolific cars... So trains carrying freight etc would stop through and there were a lot of union members and WWI veterans, and in fact, there was a massacre there when the union and the vets got all up in each ither's faces.

Whoa, wait, a *massacre!?*

Yeah, but part of understanding that is knowing where it lies and what was going on... Wait -- they haven't told you about the massacre? WTF? Ok, right... So have you talked about Everett and port towns and--


Ok, well, the are trees and vampires there.

Vampires are stupid.

Ok, well, there are trees there, so lots of loggers. But... port towns,

Port Angeles!?

And Seattle, and Bellingham, and Tacoma, Olympia, and Everett (they had a massacre too), Spoka--

WAIT! Everett had a massacre too?

Another labor thing, yeah, and Wallace Walla had the Whitman massacre where white settlers got knocked off because there... Well, it's all still complex trying to sort out who was doing what, but missionary settlers making misteps on land not really theirs is sometimes bad news...

This happened in Washington?

Um, yes. What are they teaching you in this class anyway?

And on and on in that vein trying to explain how geography ties into various events and influenced the various parties present... The astronomy discussion was all, "we have to answer questions. " "You get to answer questions about STARS? And THE UNIVERSE? That's kind of awesome!

It kind of boggles my mind at how such interesting stuff gets "boring". I have to remember to ask her if she asked her teacher about Centralia yet...

"Do not forget. Remember and warn." -- Plaque fixed to the hollow shell of Sarajevo's National Library

Susan's picture
Submitted by Susan on

Heh. We snuggled down for bedtime tonight and M1 says, "Ok, so back to history, tell me more about..." Accidentally rambled about WA state history for 45 minutes. :)

"Do not forget. Remember and warn." -- Plaque fixed to the hollow shell of Sarajevo's National Library

Bee's picture
Submitted by Bee on


My experience is that organised education can be a good experience, when the students are respected and equal members of the community. I went to an Open Concept elementary school, and it literally saved my life. Byron went to an alternative high school (described here) and he credits it for giving him the freedom and confidence he needed at the time. We met at Evergreen, and though I hated Olympia, that college has had an enormous impact on my life and the culture at large. Each of these? Founded on egalitarian principles.

It was a shock later in life to encounter traditional educational environments. I just don't think that hierarchies work. Unless you want to create a generation of embittered clerks.

Bee's picture
Submitted by Bee on

I believe you can do anything! I have every confidence in you.

The daily reality of homeschooling is sometimes not much fun, but I think we all have to make our best choices. It was easier to keep my kid home than deal with the crazed fallout of the alternatives.... some people have the opposite situation.... but we all struggle through somehow!

Bee's picture
Submitted by Bee on

I was involved, but walked away. While I thought the specific educational goals of the program were worthy, I was very unhappy with the structure. It seemed to me that (in this specific case) the administration and funding structure violated professional standards and union rules. While I do think that everyone can teach, I also believe that state salary dollars should go to state certified teachers. Veering away from that vetting and credentialing process is fine when handled correctly, but setting up a school that intentionally circumvents union protections? That isn't fair to the teachers. These issues are not pertinent to all charter schools, but where I lived, it seemed like a sneaky way for the government to avoid paying fair wages.

I also had a contract to write a book about radical education but dropped out when the marketing people tried to set me up as an expert or pundit. Me, or anyone, an unschooling guru? Um, no. That is a contradiction in terms.

Bee's picture
Submitted by Bee on

Oh! This is so infuriating!

Washington is such a fascinating place... I don't understand how or why the curriculum manages to be so BORING!!

Though I could say the same thing about all history education. We have this exciting, sexy, strange, diverse young country.... yet kids don't even know the full wretched exciting story about how the Constitution was formed.

Alas, alas!

Bee's picture
Submitted by Bee on

That is awesome!!

I dragged my kid to the underground tour on our last morning in Seattle. He thought it was really interesting, even when I inserted all sorts of extra commentary and insisted we stay and look at every single photograph at the end.

It was strange though since I have been away so long.... Seattle is actually younger than, well, the apartment complex I live in.