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The Year of Learning Dangerously: Adventures in Homeschooling

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A year of homeschooling. What could possibly go wrong?

In this honest and wry memoir, popular blogger, author, and former child actor Quinn Cummings recounts her family’s decision to wade into the unfamiliar waters of homeschooling – the fastest-growing educational trend of our time -- despite a chronic lack of discipline, some major gaps in academic knowledge, and a serious case of math aversion. (And that’s just Quinn.)

Quinn’s fearless quest includes some self-homeschooling – reading up on education reform, debating the need for “socialization,” and infiltrating conferences filled with Radical Unschoolers as well as Christian fundamentalists (and even chaperoning a homeschool prom). Part personal narrative, part social commentary, and part how-not-to guide, The Year of Learning Dangerously will make you laugh and make you think. And there may or may not be a quiz at the end. OK, there’s no quiz. Probably.

240 pages, Hardcover

First published August 7, 2012

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Quinn Cummings

6 books26 followers

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 337 reviews
Profile Image for Jeanette.
318 reviews72 followers
February 2, 2013
Am I the only who got the impression Quinn Cummings only started to homeschool her daughter so that she would have material for a book?

At first I was loving this book, laughing a lot and thinking about foisting copies of it off on all my friends and family who are considering homeschool as an option for their family. After the first few chapters though I quickly changed my mind. Now I am not sure I would recommend it to anyone with out a lot of disclaimers attached.

The book changed from the author's experiences homeschooling her daughter to her experiences infiltrating a number of the more the fringe groups of homeschoolers and writing about them a.k.a making fun of them. Now, I am not a fringe homeschooler. We are not radical unschoolers, we are not fundamentalists or Evangelicals nor had I ever really heard of Gothardites before reading this book. I do not homeschool for religious reasons or because I am anti-government but I still found it weird the way the author lied her way through many conferences and meetings, including buying wigs, crosses and ankle length dresses, in order to get information on groups and ideologies she already knew she disagreed with and was not interested in following.

This book was not so much the author's experience homeschooling her daughter (she did very little of the teaching herself) so much as her experiences criss-crossing the country looking for more homeschool groups to make fun of and criticize. I would have enjoyed a book that included more of her own experiences homeschooling and not so much her investigations into fringe homeschooling groups.
Profile Image for Mischenko.
1,014 reviews97 followers
May 9, 2020
This is a true account of the author’s experience after making the choice to homeschool her daughter. Parts of the book were comical at times, but I found the humor quite rude and distasteful, especially when directed at specific homeschooling groups. This book probably doesn’t offer much for a seasoned homeschooler; however, there were little tidbits along the way that I personally enjoyed. For example, a rebuttal to people who state that if children aren’t in public school they won’t learn how to handle difficult people. I’ve heard this one multiple times and it always makes me chuckle.

Overall, it seems that throughout the book the author was practically poking fun and ridiculing what didn’t fit her ideals. It felt negative to me and turned me off. I totally lost interest because of it. Honestly, it’s important to know that what works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another.

2.5 stars
Profile Image for Pumpkinbear.
101 reviews13 followers
October 25, 2012
I love to read stories about other people who homeschool, just as I love to read stories about people who come from Arkansas, and people who are overweight, and people who have any other random thing in common with me. So I didn't need Cummings' book to inform me, or reassure me--I just wanted to read about her experience homeschooling her daughter.

That being said, I was titillated to see how Cummings embodies the fantasy of probably many secular homeschoolers--to sneak into one of those super-conservative homeschooling conferences! I loved her adventures, and it would be my dream to do the whole thing exactly as she did, costume and back story and all.

In other parts of the book, I was simply titillated by the antics that Cummings gets up to--water polo five days a week, totally on a whim?!? Her authorial voice paints her as so uncertain, so worried, so panicked about her choices that as an experienced homeschooler, I just wanted to remind her take some deep breaths, while laughing my butt off at her secretly inside my head, bless her heart.

I was sad, however, to see that Cummings, who writes often about her loneliness in her situation, made so much less effort to sincerely break into a homeschooling community than she did to sneak into several. Seriously, she attended multi-day conferences of niche homeschooling communities, chatting up other families as she went, but only took her kiddo to ONE Park Day of ONE homeschool group in her area?!? She attended a family-friendly unschooling conference, and a kid-run outdoor Shakespeare play, and DIDN'T bring her child?!? Overall, this was the one major detriment to Cummings' book--that she mainly interacted with "types," and rarely with multi-faceted, real homeschoolers. Of COURSE if you go to an unschooling conference, you're going to meet some really hard-core unschoolers, and if you go to a Gothard conference, well, you're going to meet a lot of people who are VERY focused on Gothard. But the vast majority of homeschoolers don't live one type of homeschool method, and you're not going to find them at the conferences. You're going to find them at Park Day, and Skate Night, and the Homeschool Biography Fair. When you hang out with them you'll talk about homeschooling, yes, but also about the new TV show that you just started watching, or which Chinese restaurant in town is the best, or what you think the family that's planning to go to Disney World next month absolutely MUST do there.

It's perhaps this lack of interaction with the wide variety of typical homeschoolers that limits Cummings' conclusions about why families homeschool. Sure, there ARE plenty of families whose kids had a bad experience in traditional schools, and plenty of families for whom traditional schools don't work. There are also plenty of families like me, however. I don't follow any type of homeschooling other than my own, and I feel great about my community's public schools, and think that they serve their students well, and work for them--it's just not the lifestyle that I want for my family. Cummings didn't seem to meet many other families like me, which is too bad, because there are a ton of us out there to be met. We're the ones reading at the library for the entire morning while our kiddos sprawl out and read two aisles over, or the ones sitting at the park bench all afternoon and gossiping while our kiddos roam around the playground in a big pack, playing some elaborate game together.

We're probably NOT the ones spending five nights a week at water polo, though. That's just...a lot.
586 reviews15 followers
April 14, 2013
A quarter of the way through this book, I would have rated it 4+ stars. Two-thirds through, I'd have given it 2 stars, maybe even 1 because I was getting so annoyed. By the end, it was redeemed a bit, leaving me around 3.5. Maybe 3.739485673458, just for fun.

Here's why the fluctuations:

First off, Cummings is funny reading. Really amusing, especially when she pokes fun at her own difficulties (and now I know I'm not the only one who checks hotel room closets for homicidal maniacs--although actually I usually check the shower).

In the beginning, it seemed that she was doing this brilliant nonfiction thing where she was going to give us a look at lots of different homeschooling philosophies/groups/issues through the eyes of a mother investigating them. A funny mother. What a great way to teach without being boring and dry! And that's what it was for a several chapters. She talks about unschooling, Christian Fundamentalists, team sports, and tutoring. All interesting, even when she was poking fun at the various groups. She gave a regrettably short look at classical ed a la Susan Wise Bauer, but whatever.

So this was all well and good, and I even got to feel happy because I wasn't bothered by her gently making fun of some of the rules I live by (I'm not a Fundamentalist, but I am a conservative Christian).

But then. She goes through an overly long portion of the book (I think it was only two or three chapters, but it felt like ten) where the gentleness of the laughter felt a lot less gentle. She spends just forever making fun of Gothardites (a strange branch of quiverfull folk). Now, I have to say that I think they sound crazy too and yes I would worry for them if things were exactly as she portrayed. But. Cummings just seemed mean about it, and like there was more of an agenda to this portion of the book. Like it wasn't about homeschooling at all--it was about pointing out how ridiculous and crazy they were. Had it been about three-quarters shorter, I probably would have been fine. It was just too much.

Anyway, then she finally moved on and started to see some good stuff again about the quirks of homeschooling folk. And the book ended with a lovely, dare I say moving, portrayal of the hopes and dreams we have for our kids and how she hopes the future of education will better combine the great stuff about all different kinds of schooling--home, public, charter, online, etc.

So if you skip the chapters about the quiverfull folk, it really is an entertaining and interesting (though not particularly deep) look at some of the possibilities, realities, and difficulties of homeschooling.
21 reviews
October 9, 2012
I picked up this book to read since I am new at the homeschooling game, we just started this year--I thought the first few chapters were very funny and engaging, however, the book went downhill from there. It really wasn't so much a book about homeschooling as the author's somewhat obsessive need to infiltrate the homeschooling communities she could find and then, for the most part, deride or ridicule them. I ended up loosing interest and did not finish the book--I also did not find that it resonated with my homeschooling experience, so I hope anyone who is considering that option does not think this book is a fair representation of the actual experience of the majority, but the personal journey of one.
Profile Image for Connie Kuntz.
496 reviews29 followers
August 13, 2012
Warning: This is more of a personal essay than a book review.

I am simultaneously introverted and a showoff. I am also as much of a rule-follower as I am a rebel. It took me a long time to realize that particular kind of inner conflict clashes with classical educators.

That kind of inner conflict also kept me mentally and physically constipated for basically my entire education.

Warning: Don't read any further if the subject of poop offends you.

I remember the first time I was constipated. I was in third grade, which was commensurate with the time I stopped enjoying school. I remained constipated until 1991, a few months after I graduated from college. I do not blame school for constipating me. I blame myself. At an early age, I told myself that I would not thrive in school. Who knows why I was so stubborn. I just was. But I also knew at that young age that I enjoyed learning, and that I would figure out how to learn at some point.

That "point" came thirteen years later, in 1991.

After I graduated from college in 1991, at age 21, I finally had what I deemed the freedom I needed to start homeschooling myself.

I frequented the libraries, theaters, restaurants, parks, and lakes of Minneapolis. I became disciplined. I learned how to navigate public transportation. I socialized with people who weren't anything like me. I learned how to bike through rain and winter. I learned how to be a vegetarian, kick-box, and read palms. I joined a co-op, went camping by myself, and learned how to birdwatch. I started running and I started writing. I read the newspaper almost every day and did the crosswords. I learned about Minnesota. I read Jon Hassler and F. Scott Fitzgerald books. I became familiar with the suburbs and greater Minnesota. I lit a play about the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald. I tried so hard to steep myself in the Minnesota culture, that I actually thought Fargo was a terrible, inaccurate, offensive movie. (I no longer think this. In fact, I think it is hilarious and brilliant.)

I did tons of theatre. Most of it was pretty bad, but I loved doing it anyway. Still do. By the time I was 25, I noticed that people started giving me books on a regular basis. That had never happened to me before. I loved it. I wasn't able to read as quickly as I do now, but I did finally consider myself a reader. I also noticed I started to really enjoy researching the plays I was doing, and somehow became a pretty good dramaturg. I had a lot of energy and tons of enthusiasm. I was (and am) annoying as hell, but my antics eventually and miraculously centered me, and, as a result, I met and married my beautiful husband, and we now have four wondrous children, and four delightful pets. I also have deep, loving, and intelligent relationship with the family who raised me. I attribute almost everything that is good in my life to the concept and practice of homeschooling. It works for me. It works for my kids. It works for my family.

To all of that I say this: so what? I found a way to learn in a way that makes sense to me. Traditionally educated people do the same. It's a right of being an American, I think.

To be clear: I do not think that traditional education is wack. I don't. I think it's amazing. In fact, I do not understand what the fuss is all about. The topic of "how to educate" regularly makes headlines and frequently raises hackles. There are numerous books on the subject, including this one. And why? I'm glad there are, but seriously: what's the big deal? In this day and age, anyone can receive a good education.

There are choices out there for anyone who wants to receive an education. Anyone can attend public school. Lots of people can attend private school. Anyone can access parks, libraries, and the internet. Anyone can find a newspaper. Anyone can volunteer. Anyone can learn.

And anyone should.

All this blaming of teachers, unions, school boards, elected officials, bullies, tiger-moms, bad parents, nauseates me. Stop blaming. Shut up and learn.

Quickly mentioning that we don't say "shut up" in our family.

The author of this book is very eloquent, an excellent writer, and very funny. I just don't think this book was written for me. I think the book is geared for people who aren't that familiar with homeschooling.

I, like most homeschoolers, have read (and will continue to read) several books on the subject. I know a fair amount of the history, have already encountered the myriad of eccentric homeschoolers, and fancy myself to be open, honest, and insecure. I just don't think that makes for fresh storytelling. I didn't care about her insecurities, her fear of bad guys in hotel closets, her Oscar nomination, her forays into different homeschooling conventions and activities. I wanted to know about the good, loving, spiritual people and events who/that shaped her.

I want to say that I did care about the fact that her father died when she was nine, and I would have liked to have learned more about how that shaped her educational philosophy. I would have liked to have learned more about how the positive elements of her childhood shaped her homeschooling philosophy. I mention that twice because so many people think that people homeschool out of negativity. It's the opposite.

The reason I want to know more about her personal upbringing is because my own parents and siblings greatly and positively influence how I homeschool. My warmest memories of my childhood stem from what I learned from them at home or what I learned from them in what I consider the childhood field. I still feel so much warmth from my memories of learning from my parents and my siblings. And since the day I met him, Jesse has talked every day about the stuff he has learned from his father. We have very long, very lovely lists. And that is why we homeschool. We homeschool because we have a deeper respect for what and how we learned from our homes than how we learned from our collective education.

In the interest of full disclosure, I want you to know that Jesse loved school. He thrived in it. He got amazing grades, had great experiences, made wonderful connections. He loved and respected so many of his teachers and profs that I actually know who they are even though I have never met them. We keep all this in our minds as we homeschool our children. If and when it stops working, we'll enroll them elsewhere.

This book made me think about what I value about homeschooling. I am very grateful for that. I struggled with how many stars to give this book. I didn't enjoy reading it, but I definitely enjoy thinking about homeschooling. So...three stars.


Yes, We Plan To Send Our Kids To College
Profile Image for Amy.
162 reviews10 followers
August 13, 2012
I don't home school. Beginning a few weeks from now, both of my children will be in the neighborhood public school, and I'll be working hard as a parent to ensure that they are getting an excellent education there for as long as we're able to stick it out.

The good thing about this book is that the author respects and appreciates that, because she's been there. Quinn Cummings is a normal parent trying to navigate the often-polarized waters of homeschooling as an average citizen and having a bit of a hard time finding her family's "tribe" in the movement-- she visits fundamentalist and evangelical gatherings, park playdates, etc and concludes that they'll just be doing it their way and doing the best they can for their daughter. Throughout the narrative, she includes excellent information on the homeschool movement, its impact on American education, and where she sees parent-led education going in the next decades.

This book is a shot in the arm to those of us who have read other homeschooling books and thought, "that's not me." Her honesty combined with scholarly research make this option far more palatable than the vast majority of other homeschool authors who are rigidly convinced that this is the only way to go-- this book is homeschooling for the rest of us.

So my children will start back to their neighborhood school in a couple of weeks, but if it doesn't work out, I feel like Quinn's got my back. This is worth reading if you have or will have school-age children and are not 100% sure what to do about their education-- or if you are even marginally fascinated with the homeschool movement. Also, Quinn is laugh-out-loud funny!
Profile Image for Heather Fineisen.
1,158 reviews112 followers
February 15, 2017
Adventures in Homeschooling

What I really liked about this book was the history of homeschooling as an American phenomenon and the immersion of the author into various homeschooling sub groups. Cummings doesn't take herself too seriously which makes her relatable. She does take her parenting seriously and there are some good tips for the novice home schooler. An enjoyable and informative read perfect for beginners to the subject.
Profile Image for Laura Cheek.
206 reviews5 followers
May 7, 2013
I am a bit suprised to see some reviewers think her treatment of various homeschool subgroups as "snarky" or mean-spirited. I didn't get that at all.
I thought she was a well intentioned traveler through the homeschool world who finds the variations there in fascinating and worthy of commentary.
I am a long time homeschooler and a graduate of homeschooling. I thought her book was hilarious and found myself delighted with her apt descriptions and witty remarks. I have a unique position in that I was homeschooled in one paradigm, started homeschooling my own children in another paragigm, and am currently in yet a different "sort" of tribe. My own journey has taken me to the unschooling conference, the fundamental conference, the classical conference, and everything inbetween. I admit, I haven't tried the Gothards, but I have seen first hand the damage of that particular subgroup and found that her writing on the matter was the only portion of the book more apt to produce tears than laughter. I did get a little bogged down in the middle where the constant quips became tedious, but, after pausing for a sandwich, I finished the book and enjoyed it immensely. Who knows but that the tedious part was more a lack of blood sugar on my part than any real angst with the book. ;) I enjoy a good laugh and something to ponder when the read is over - this book provided both.
Profile Image for Monika.
508 reviews146 followers
January 24, 2014
Originally posted on my blog, A Lovely Bookshelf on the Wall:

In The Year of Learning Dangerously, Quinn Cummings chronicles her family's decision to take her daughter out of public school and homeschool for a year. It starts off great. Cummings addresses her reasons for choosing to homeschool, as well as some of the concerns parents (and other people) have. I especially appreciated her comebacks to the tired "what about socialization?" questions and comments.

There are plenty of witty moments, ones all of us who homeschool can relate to. But shortly after the opening few chapters, I started to have mixed feelings about the book.

What bothered me is this: While exploring some of the different homeschooling styles, she seemed to purposefully seek out minority fringe groups rather than looking into what typical homeschoolers do. For example, the entire unschooling chapter was about radical unschoolers… at a convention, no less. Why cover radical unschooling but not unschooling, which is far more common?

She also had a tendency to gloss or even skip over points in order to be clever and funny. Her overview of classical education was more of a caricature than reality. She couldn't finish reading The Well Trained Mind to see the big picture? Okay, fair enough; it is a massive text. But why not visit the Well-Trained Mind message forum instead? Or seek out local classical homeschoolers and ask what they do on a normal day?

It seemed as if she was looking for the most outrageous examples of homeschooling approaches. What was the overall point of doing so? Shock value? It certainly doesn't seem like she bothered trying for a fair representation of typical homeschoolers. (And the group I'm in is a very eclectic bunch - we have members who are unschoolers, religious, secular, Charlotte Mason, classical, Montessori, child-led, relaxed, and everything in between.)

The Year of Learning Dangerously did even out toward the end. The prom and graduation chapters were very sweet, and I hope that my daughter ends up feeling the way those graduates did about their education. I'm glad Cummings mentioned that plenty of us homeschool not for extreme religious reasons or out of fear of the government or society. I liked her optimism in the final chapters, and I'm glad she found a style that works for her family.

I would have enjoyed this far more if, for the majority of the book, Cummings had spent less time poking fun at extremist fringe groups and more time observing typical examples of various homeschooling styles. I think she would have gotten a lot more out of the experience, and it would have made for a more timeless, useful book. The fact that this is a memoir, her experience, is probably what saved the read for me.
Profile Image for Maurine Tritch.
251 reviews1 follower
September 19, 2013

Homeschooling is an issue that most politicians conveniently ignore when ranting about our education system. I don't know exactly why since it is quickly becoming a real force of change. I picked up this book because my feelings are ambivalent at best: the internet has changed everything about how information is processed, stored and disseminated and I really believe that the choice that more and more parents are making reflect that. Why subject your precious child to the vagaries of a public school education when practically all of human knowledge is available on the computer and you can precisely tailor learning...and do it without any special training? At the same time, such a controlled setup seems intuitively wrong to me and my values, like a dim drafty corridor I could choose to go down ending with a scream and a thump (of course, most parental decisions feel like that). Flip it around though, and my homeschooling friends could be enlightened pioneers in the newest phase of what it means to be educated, and I'm just a hidebound traditionalist who will be left in the dust with my outdated ideals. We tend to raise--and educate--children in an appropriate way for the world they will live in, and who is to say that their vision of the future is not clearer than mine? I needed more information.

I felt like this book was a decent starting off point. The author did a good job of juggling her personal experiences with points of view from the homeschooling community at large. She juxtaposed horrifying revelations with the ridiculous in hairpin turns, causing a strange outraged laughter that was a fairly unique experience. Critiques would be an apparently limitless budget and child care to be able to fly to obscure conferences and events on a whim, and the eventual shape of her daughter's actual "homeschooling" turned into something like a wealthy Renaissance heir's education, utilizing a set of tutors coupled with online instruction. Basically, cherry-picked private school. I liked that the author showed the different movements in homeschooling, I wasn't so wild about the fact that they tended to be very much fringe movements. She bypassed any gatherings of Classical Homeschoolers, or more moderate Unschoolers, instead going for the most lurid. She also lacked a journalist's instinct to be able to go to a gathering of strangers and chat affably until one or two opened up and really told their story. For most of it, she was very much the awkward bystander, which helped nothing. I did think that the sections on Fundamentalism and the Prom (where she actually got some prom-goers talking) were the strongest. All in all, while I wouldn't go on and on about how fantastic the book is, it was an engaging, quick read.
Profile Image for Katie Tatton.
215 reviews6 followers
June 4, 2013
The Year of Learning Dangerously chronicles one woman's quest to find a style of homeschooling that best fits her family. I like the idea behind this book, and I think that there is a market for people who are looking to provide a better education for their children than what traditional public education provides, while not fitting into the homeschool stereotype of ultra-conservative Christians or free-living hippies. Where the book falls short, however, is that its author expects me to believe that while she isn't a stereotypical home-schooler, everyone else she meets is. The idea that she repeatedly finds a convention of conveniently happening next week and that she suits up in whatever costume she can find to better fit in while browsing the parking lot learning more about the people from their bumper stickers is ridiculous and degrading.

I did appreciate the chapter during which she flies to the midwest to participate in a homeschool prom and has an encounter with one of the students and is told something to the effect of, "No, this isn't like the public school proms I've been to. I feel like a lady here." I also enjoyed the last chapter which discusses how most parents are already involved in their children's education through parent-teacher groups, volunteering in classrooms, expanding ideas at home through various extra-curricular lessons and practices and more. I agree with the author when she says that traditional education is going to start looking a lot more like homeschool with online classes and alternative means to passing knowledge on to our students. I just wish I hadn't felt patronized during most of the book.
Profile Image for Christina Gagliano.
336 reviews13 followers
September 16, 2012
Quinn Cummings is a truly gifted comic writer! Her word choices and effortless, yet "full of big fun words" style makes for an enjoyable and engaging read. Even as I become annoyed with some of her choices ("would you stop overthinking things already?" and "ugh, what a helicopter parent"), I admired her total honesty, her ability to keep an open mind and explore the variety of homeschooling and blended learning options available, and, most of all, the fact that she is constantly driven by the desire to do what what is best for her daughter. The last chapter about the direction of homeschooling and education in general is particularly insightful (though less funny) and I agree 100% with her assessment.

One note to Quinn if she ever reads this: I live 15 minutes from the overly humid water park you mention and, while it is undoubtedly lame by California standards, a visit or two between January and March helps us New England families retain our sanity and fantasize about warmer days to come.
Profile Image for Lisa.
2 reviews
September 21, 2013
Humorous and slightly interesting intro and conclusion, but the entire middle section (aka almost the entire book) is a series of criticisms and rude "humor" made at the expense of several homeschool sub-groups (which are not representative of most homeschoolers, by the way). These criticisms come from her first-hand experiences of faking her way into various conferences, conventions, and activities. The book's focus isn't even on the author's homeschooling experience with her daughter, mainly because she is too busy researching more sub-groups to bash, that she leaves the responsibilty of most of the actual schooling onto anyone else she can find. Bashing people whose views differ from your own is never a good way to sell books. Glad I didn't waste money on this one.
Profile Image for Leslie.
303 reviews7 followers
August 3, 2017
Amazing (to me) was the many people who criticized Cummings’ choice to homeschool her daughter because “how will your daughter learn to deal with bullies and jerks if she doesn’t attend school ?” Here’s her brilliant response:

“There are bullies at the Girl Scout meeting, in the mall, on the playground, in the neighborhood, and even at family reunions. Children who homeschool do get to negotiate with socially toxic people. What they don’t get to do is grimly endure an entire year sitting two feet away from a person who makes their lives miserable on a regular and predictable basis.” Okay, I am ready, willing, and able to spend my jr. high years as a homeschooler.
Profile Image for Melanie.
778 reviews36 followers
June 2, 2015
If a moron like Quinn Cummings can homeschool her child, anyone can! *rimshot*

That's the type of humor in this book, where the author manages to educate her whiny, perpetually starving, shallow, and spoiled daughter for a year. There's kind of a fond viciousness to it that makes me wonder about the author's preferred method of self-harm. Or if deep down, she didn't decide to take her daughter out of school before the "mean girl" gene kicked on.

Anyway, because Cummings's daughter "Alice" hates math, she fakes incompetence in it, and the teachers are either too busy or dumb to realize this. After steadfastly refusing to progress beyond long division for two school years, Quinn decides that the public school is no place for Alice, so she pulls her out to homeschool her. She first tries online schooling (which is basically public schooling at home) with no success, because the coordinating teacher is completely non-responsive, then she tries winging it on her own with the aid of a couple of tutors, namely in math and French. Her daughter performs really well in this framework, but because Cummings has never considered homeschooling before, she decides to explore the different tribes of homeschoolers, and visits several conventions. First is an unschoolers' convention, where everyone under the age of five is still nursing and the parents seem to believe in no boundaries or discipline at all. Next she visits a convention of Fundamentalist Christians, where biblical literalism is the flavor of the day. Lastly, she gleefully dons a wig and crashes a Gothardite (ATI/IBLP) Convention (think the Duggars) and hears their views on enforcing social isolation from corporate employers and non-Gothardites. Mind you, she's not trying to assimilate into any of these groups, but she's trying to gather info for info's sake, or to make fun of other homeschoolers, or something. She also volunteers as a chaperone at a homeschool prom in the Midwest, just to see how it's done (Hint: Everyone is well-behaved) and goes to a homeschool graduation ceremony, which is the only thing she doesn't hatefully snark in the book.

After one year, Alice's schooling becomes more piecemeal than it was before, which is easy for small families. She feels the wave of the future is "roamschooling," where students and their parents knit together a tableau of studies that cater to their skills and interests. Sounds plausible, especially if you consider extracurricular activities/church/scouts as part of this framework.

This book was probably more useful as a memoir than it was as a source of information about homeschooling. If you were unaware of the differences between the types of alternate schooling, this provided a basic framework, but it wasn't at all comprehensive. (For example, she spends about two pages on Classic Education then dies of boredom trying to muck through The Well-Trained Mind.) Also, she seemed to fail in pointing out that not all homeschoolers are hippies/cultists/fundamentalists. There are between 2 and 3 million homeschoolers in the United States today, and she, writing in Los Angeles in 2009-11ish, seemed unable to find any secular and moderate ones. Her failure to normalize homeschooling was possibly the biggest disappointment of the book. Nor did she mention what sort of curriculum she used with her daughter or how she found it.
Profile Image for AnandaTashie.
272 reviews10 followers
October 29, 2013
"Maybe we just have to agree that our children deserve the best start we can give them - without having to agree on the precise definition of what "best start" actually means."

This was an entertaining book - funny with moments of poignant introspection. It wasn't *exactly* about a year of homeschooling, though she gave us glimpses of her adventures with her daughter. Most homeschoolers I know do a lot of searching in their first year (and continually?), but that doesn't typically involve going undercover at pricey conferences to observe various subsets of homeschooling. Even though I'm a curious person and liked reading the chapters just fine, it felt like a gimmick for the book.

My favorite part was when she crashed the homeschool graduation. Not because she crashed yet another event, but because the words spoken there (by others) made me all warm and fuzzy:

"A life can be well lived," he began, "if you find someone who really loves you for who you are; if you find something you love to do and you find someplace that feels like home."

"It's the fingerprints you put on a story that make it special. Perfectionism is boring. I look forward to see what fingerprints you leave on this world."

"We're not done, ever. We learn until we can't learn anymore. I want to thank my family for helping me to learn, forcing me to learn. I will do this forever."
Profile Image for Andrea.
143 reviews10 followers
February 19, 2014
I think it's kind of ironic that the tag-line for this book calls it an "honest and wry memoir". Quinn Cummings, the author of this book, was anything but honest with the many groups of people she used in order to drum up material for this "memoir".

I enjoyed the first few chapters of the book but quickly became unsettled an increasingly annoyed as she belittled and discounted every philosophy she came across that didn't agree with her world view. She lies and assumes alternate personas in a supposed search for the homeschooling group that would best suit her. I finally had to stop reading when she decides to buy a cross and put on a fake wedding ring so she can pretend to be married to the man she is living with , who is also the father of her child, in order to fit in at the evangelical homeschool convention. As if she really felt she would find her perfect fit there.

Like I said, there was some good stuff in the first few chapters, but it is hard to give credence to anything that comes from someone so obviously deceptive, and difficult to stomach so much condescending "humor" in one book. I wish I would have looked at other Goodreads reviews before I wasted my time on this book.
Profile Image for Jessica.
363 reviews4 followers
November 8, 2018
I was about three-quarters of the way through this book before deciding not to waste any more of my time.

This book is probably not what one assumes it to be. It’s more about the author’s inner turmoil throughout this homeschooling experience and little about the actual methodology or curriculum that she employed. The author spent the better half of the school year trying to figure out a style that suited both her and her daughter because she plunged into homeschooling on a whim and with unrealistic, romantic presumptions.

The book also offers little to no feedback from her daughter. Essentially, this book is a collection of whiny complains and self-doubts of an incredibly neurotic mother. Her attempts to make light of her discomfort in situations also makes her seem to be a disrespectful and self-absorbed person.

There are bits of pieces of this book that are funny and almost informative. I kept anticipating the author to move on into the main objectives of the book, but that never happened. It was like reading a never-ending forward/introduction of a book, when all I wanted was to get into the real topic.

It was quite very disappointing book. I would not recommend it to anyone. Waste your time somewhere else.
Profile Image for Jill.
8 reviews2 followers
June 24, 2018
I wish I could give this book 2.5 stars, because it doesn't quite deserve 3. Quinn Cummings basically shared her own exploration of homeschooling, "researching" many different theories and groups of homeschoolers by visiting conferences and events for different groups. I was put off by how she pretended to belong to different groups, even so much as wearing a wig to visit one particularly conservative Christian group. I felt embarrassed for her behavior, and found myself wishing she would have just been honest with the different groups about her desires to learn how they did things. The book didn't offer any beneficial information to me as a homeschooling mom, and I felt like she just wanted to get laughs more than share information...and even the laughs felt forced on my end. Overall, I wasn't impressed with the book, but it was nice to hear another mom's trepidation about "doing homeschooling correctly." it's a worry I often have, and was glad to hear I'm not the only one in the boat of trying to figure out what I'm doing.
270 reviews
March 4, 2013
Great book. Well-written,quick read (after four months in Anna K, I am all about quick reads). Author chronicles first year of home schooling late elementary age daughter. She doesn't come at it from a God-told-me-to-oppress-all-females, which is what I am really looking for (books about home schooling from a practical, non-religious, academic perspective...I feel like we have the God thing covered, and as someone quite familiar with evangelical home schooling, I am not so jazzed with it or its outcomes). Cummings is incredibly fair and even handed while examining different branches of HSing. She visits an unschooling conference, evangelical christian conference, a Gothard/ATI conference, home school prom, and Catholic home school play.

The book also came with a "for further reading," which included books about home schooling that don't center on God (sounds bad, but Rachel and Rebekah, you know what I am talking about).
1 review1 follower
August 8, 2012
PLEASE READ, especially if you're a parent, but mainly if you love good writing. There reason I know it's so great is because I've read it. Not because I'm a fast reader. I'm the slowest reader on earth, which for years I blamed on the Clinton, SC public school system. Until my dad told me HE'S a slow reader and I learned it's genetic. I started reading it back in June, when Quinn's agent gave me an advance copy. These are the test copies they print before it's been proofed and the spelling and punctuation have been fixed. But again, it's Quinn Cummings, so there were no errors. Also, since it's Quinn Cummings, the book is about lots of things, like water polo ball-hoggers and Spencer Tracy and the Scopes monkey trial, because her mind's a brilliant whirligig. Did I mention it's HILARIOUS? Just like her first book, Notes From The Underwire. Buy that too. In a real bookstore, if possible.
Profile Image for Heather Apgar.
4 reviews
September 7, 2012
After reading so many "The right way to homeschool is..." books, this was refreshing. The author describes her foray into homeschooling her child, and examining various methods of accomplishing her goals.
She is amazingly even-handed with differing schools of thought, and quite funny about the pitfalls of each. Cummings wit and self-deprecation made her adventure real, and made it a more interesting read than a review of the homeschooling factions. Her desire to do the best for her daughter while struggling to find out how really resonated with me as a homeschooling mama. She showed the frustrations with herself, with schools, with methods, and with her child that most homeschoolers I know experience, but which rarely make it into the self-assured, home-is-a-haven, books. A good read for people looking for educational options for their kids... gives a real perspective, even though it won't give you all the how-to's.
Profile Image for Mel.
512 reviews
March 28, 2019
I have a few questions: What was dangerous about the year of their homeschool learning? The actual learning? Infiltrating homeschool conventions while pretending to be part of them? The maniac in the closet? The maniac is really the author, but I digress. How much tax money is California citizens being charged when so many classes are being removed; PE, Art, Music, and needing parent involvement for janitors and fund raising? Sounds like public school is a failing institution.

She quotes The Department of Labor on page 221 that predicts today's learner will have ten different occupations by the age of forty-two. My question is why? This information isn't given.

The beginning of the book the author comes across as a woman with a lot of neurosis and honestly, I was thinking, how does she parent? Maybe like she homeschooled?

She gives a lot of attention to a group called the Gothardites and had a lot of judgement towards them and even claimed to feel very sorry for the girls. why? Interestingly a lot of the bashing she made toward the Gothardites, could easily apply to the Amish and Muslims. Why didn't she comment on them?

She only barely touches on public schools on page 221, that with all the students in the American educational system is so large, that one single kid isn't a compelling concern to the system. She mentions the shrinking budget. She barely hints at the SAT testing and the teachers being forced to teach to the test, (so the school will score well and received Federal funding). Why can't public schools be better than this? JMO, but it's because the government is involved and it's only getting worse.

The concerns of the author come across as either very ignorant or naive. Hopefully she's learned that not every student learns the same way, just as their intestes are not the same. This book is not a book new homeschoolers should even consider reading. It's rubbish.
Profile Image for Tory Wagner.
1,261 reviews
February 3, 2022
This is an entertaining and enlightening book on home schooling written by the mother of a homeschooled child. As a former teacher, I still wouldn't advocate for the homeschooling movement but I appreciated the effort this mother put into humorously portraying her daughter's first year as a homeschooled child.
Profile Image for Luann Habecker.
211 reviews2 followers
October 19, 2018
Is she for homeschooling or against, as she's not doing homeschooling any favors.

heavy with mockery and a fixation on Christianity (or her version of such) and infiltrating conventions..... yeah

pg 8 I never actually learned how to learn....

pg 21 &25-26 socialization retort

pg 23 Humans have historically learned to be human in a vertical process-in other words, from their elders. Schools seem to work on the assumption that we should learn how to be humans horizontally, from kids our own age because, after all, no one is better equipped to teach a fourteen-year-old boy how to be a man quite like a group of fourteen-year-old boys.

pg 59 Some behaviorists theorize that part of what we've come to think of as disruptive adolescent behavior-rudeness, mood swings, lack of focus- might actually be the symptoms of chronic sleep deprivation. When a few school districts experimented with starting high school an hour or so later, everything measurable improved: grades, attitude behavior. And yet most high schools won't een consider starting later.

pg 147 It's a rare parent who doesn't want her children to inherit at least some of her belief system. Indeed, the pleasure-if not the obligation- of raising children is to instill in young, pliant minds those things that matter deeply to you.

pg 203 The liminal state

pg 214 I wanted Alice's education to be more than a three-person play.... I was acutely aware that my child's education was going to be a long and complex voyage.
Profile Image for Sara.
611 reviews
January 13, 2015
This is the memoir of a Los Angeles mom who decides to try homeschooling with her daughter after being disappointed by their experiences in public and private schools. What I appreciated most about Cummings’ story is that her family doesn’t fall into any of the “typical” homeschool categories: her daughter isn’t a genius, nor does she have learning problems, nor are they religious, nor are they off-the-grid hippies, nor do they travel/move a lot. Cummings’ anxieties about her daughter’s education and strivings to forge a good path for their family are something that most modern parents can relate to. She is (usually) very respectful of the choices that other parents make, acknowledging that one size does not fit all and we’re all doing the best we can.

I liked: Her summaries of the history of compulsory public education and the homeschooling movement; explanations of various philosophies; musings on the nature of learning, growing up, and parenting well; vision-casting for the possible future of education.

I could have done without: The author’s “undercover” field trips to scrutinize various homeschooling groups that she clearly did not expect to agree with or learn from. This was interesting (and funny) at times, but ultimately had little to do with her relationship with her daughter or decisions about her education.
Profile Image for Fitbit420.
11 reviews4 followers
January 24, 2014
Thank god this wasn't the first book I picked up as a new homeschooling/unschooling mom. As for child star Quinn Cummings, (eye roll) she deserves an award. For the biggest bitch in history. I couldn't get thru the book at all. I stopped at page 137. This is from someone who finishes a book no. matter. what.

Quinn was not at all interested in doing any actual homeschooling, but she spent lots of time mocking homeschoolers... No one homeschool/unschooling group was safe from her wrath.

Radical unschoolers, well don't ya know they're a bunch of dirty, permissive hippies who leave their under 4yr olds alone in hotel rooms; wandering thru convention halls and generally spend their time going out of their way to make sure their kids are illiterate.

Next up there was attachment parents with 6 year olds swinging from exposed, stretched out breasts which flop around and spill over onto the chair next to them..... Then there's the whacky cult like fundamentalist Christians who believe sheep explode if they don't lay down and get anointed with gods special oil.

Seriously what the fuck?

When I say worst book ever, I'm exaggerating, but not by much.
Profile Image for Erin.
5 reviews
August 23, 2012
I found this book funny, refreshing, and very familiar. I've had both of my older children in public schools, though only for a small amount of time, and have quickly realized that public schools aren't going to serve these children well. Many children will thrive in public schools, mine won't. It was terribly frustrating to try and push my square pegs into round holes. So I brought them home.

She records her first year of homeschooling as a secular family. She isn't coming to homeschool from a place of wanting to shelter her child from the world, or wanting to provide a strong religious base. She is like me, she wants a better education for her child. She wants stronger family time together in the brief time we have our children with us. She wants all the things we want and is homeschooling for similar reasons.

I do love, however, that she visits and explores the extreme sects of homeschooling. She looks at the radical unschoolers, fundamentalists, Gothardites, and finally visits a homeschool prom in Indiana.

The book was an easy read, but fun and encouraging.
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