Friday, August 31, 2012

Think Pink! If You Want That Quelque Chose

A week or so ago, I noted on Twitter that at over 900 pages, the September issue of VOGUE is not only a bible of fashion, beauty, culture and style, it would make a handy murder weapon. Possibly to keep me off the subject of murder, at least in public, Amy Fee Garner Tweeted:

finished all 916 pages of Sept Vogue and looking to @quinncy for the takeaway-- what are we supposed to do with all of this information?

And I thought, oh yes. This, I shall do.

First thoughts:

1. Nail polish is bright and meant to be changed constantly.

2. So is hair color. In fact, as your mother might have coordinated her bag and her shoes, your nails and hair should be the same eye-defying color. I mean, it doesn't have to be, but let's be honest, you're not getting any younger or more interesting.

3. Food is best fresh, local, prepared by someone heavily tattooed who is also a DJ. Also, food is best not eaten. PARADE readers eat food; VOGUE readers talk about food.

4. Surprisingly, the most interesting people VOGUE editors can think to write about are other VOGUE contributors, people who are young, mind-bendingly rich, pleasingly symmetrical, have puzzling hobbies like "Salt-shaker restoration" or "Falcon Reiki Consultant" and honeymoon on islands which didn't exist until last week.

And then there are the trends. This year, it would seem, grown women are to wear knee-high socks in public, with everything. Women who are old enough to rent cars and pay mortgages are being encouraged to sport a look whose most defining characteristics are 1) It makes your legs look shorter and 2) It reminds people of British post-war schoolboys and elderly women, two groups who have rarely contributed to the general aesthetic good. Go to it, missy! Don't let judgement stand in your way!

 And above those knee-highs, what to wear? Starched arms, of course! 

Ideally, the effect should be modern, casual, and remind one of that time you were running out the door and realized you needed to shave your armpits because the shirt exposed them but you had no time and you didn't want to get your shirt wet, so you just shaved them without soap and spent the next four hours apologizing to your affronted epidermis.

If you aren't willing to commit to the look fully, there's always a single starched arm.

But, honestly, you bought sixteen pounds of VOGUE; show a little courage. 

Slit skirts are a big thing for fall.

Yawn, I say. YAWN. If you've been to the rodeo we call fashion long enough to remember Fat Karl Lagerfeld, you've seen enough upper-thighs to be able to skip the gynecological rotation in your medical residency. Show me a body part I haven't seen before. Give me a tunic top with a daring glimpse of spleen. 

"But, Quinn," you are asking me in confusion, "I've got my knee-highs, my starched arms, and my Doric column for thigh-flashing, but what is the look for night?"

The toilet-paper cozy.

Please remember that the last actual women to be seen in these outfits in public, Victorian women, were considered the standards of beauty, refinement and feminine grace. Please also remember more than a few died each year because their skirts got too close to the fireplace and arrange your placement in the living room accordingly.

Your glasses will come from the Geordi LaForge collection and will boldly go where no sunglasses have gone before; your jawline:

There are several benefits to these glasses: You can sleep through meetings; you can temporarily blind someone you don't like, and your sunblock bill will plummet. Metal neck-brace, spiky nose-guard and possibly-hypnotized kidnappee aren't obligatory but would certainly help the look.

But, in the end, what one fashion element will scream "FALL 2012!!!!" possibly over and over again? What look are we who know such things all going to be wearing this year, as we softly mock those poor fools with their limp arms and covered knees? Readers, wait no longer...


Yes, readers, whether you're taking the Orient Express to Willy Wonka's summer estate on Mars, having a contemplative pose with your twin llamas, taking the subway with the Ruritanian National Guard or merely sitting around in the nude with Liberace's bidet on your head, you're NO ONE this year without a Big Stupid Hat. 

Don't say you weren't warned.

And remember if you do plan to use VOGUE as a murder weapon, take out the perfume inserts ahead of time. I hear whispers they're going to be what we wear as shoes for Resort, 2013.

Monday, August 27, 2012

We Are The Champions, My Friends

Once again, Squeakers the Cat decides things! See who gets to benefit from the excellent beverage options at Intelligentsia Coffee. Also, a signed book. Of mine. Because it could be someone else's book, you never know.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Draw the Line

I know, I still owe two people coffee or tea (not to mention a signed book), but that will be over the weekend. In the meanwhile, you need happy. I know you do. Who doesn't need a cartoon which is clean enough for the entire family to enjoy but also subversively witty?

Into the Thicklebit is written by my friends Melissa Wiley and Scott Peterson. They have a great many lovely, smart and kind children they homeschool, which makes the fact that they both write at home for a living really intimidating.

Honestly, the least they could do was have one child who looked less than clean. As a favor to the rest of us.

In any case, this is their side-project and I think it swings, baby. My favorite recently is this. And now I must collect names and start warming Squeakers up for her moments in the Thunderdome.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

How Lovely It Was

It's the last night of the Quinn Cummings Year of Learning Dangerously Blog Book Tour 2012. I want to, have to, thank everyone who participated. You all give great questions; I hope I lived up to it with the answers. Within the next couple of days, we'll pull the winners of the coffee or tea and the autographed book.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Nice Work If You Can Get It

Mia asked and I answer...coordinating nicely with the chair.

Regrets, I Have a Few

Dr. Milton Gaither wrote what I found to be the most illuminating and thoroughly researched book about homeschooling I read. I like his book so much, in fact, that I recommended it in my book.

It would have been heaven if I had spelled his name right.

I am so sorry, Dr. Gaither. If there's any consolation in this, I frequently misspell my name, too.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

You're An Education in Yourself

Marni and several others have asked variations of the same question:

How do you and others feel about homeschooling through high school and how does it effect getting a college education?

Homeschoolers have attended every college/university in the United States you can think of. Stanford? Bunch of them. MIT? Yep. Caltech? You bet. Harvard? Consort met the father of a Harvard student who was homeschooled K-12.  This isn't to say all homeschoolers are Ivy-league bound, or are even interested to be. There are of homeschoolers who graduate to attend excellent small liberal-arts colleges, or spend four happy years at their state college, or dive in first through the community college system just like millions of other students. And, of course, some homeschoolers finish school functually illiterate. It's a big tent.

So how do colleges feel about homeschoolers and their home-grown transcripts? From what I've seen and heard, they feel fine. As long as the student and parent have kept records explaining what they've done and what the student has accomplished, most admissions offices will consider that as just as reputable a transcript from any regular school. When you consider the average college acceptance rate in the US was 67 percent two years ago, it stands to reason that more and more admissions officers are less interested in the perfect student than the interesting student. And homeschoolers are interesting to college admission offices.

From attending a few university open-houses geared towards families who homeschool, and hearing what friends who have homeschooled say after getting a kid or two through the admissions gauntlet, colleges like the idea of homeschoolers. Yes, the first generation had a terrible time explaining their family's educational choices to Alma Mater U, but after nearly twenty years of legal homeschooling in the US, the average university wants a first shot at some of these kids. And why not? At their best, they're self-starters who have a certain expectation that learning is fun, worthwhile, and possibly doesn't suck. Sure, not all homeschooled students are like that, but it behooves any college to go fishing where the quirky bright kids might be, if for no other reason than quirky bright kids are more likely to create that mythic algorithm and possibly endow a mythic algorithm wing before they reach 30.  

Will we do it? Homeschool our daughter through high school? I have no idea. But I do know that while it might trigger all sorts of social, logistical and academic complications either way, her transcript will be the least of my worries.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

I'm With You Once More

Several ever-participitory Anonymouses (Anonymi?) asked about why I no longer did Q-Tea videos. Well, I could tell you, or...

Friday, August 17, 2012

I Did It My Way

Becky g asks:

Is there anything which would make you stop homeschooling?

Ooh, good one. Long answer short: I hope I'd -- well, Consort and I -- would have the grace and the lack of ego to hear Alice tell us if she needs to stop homeschooling. It's incredibly easy to define yourself by a job you do all the time, especially after you write a book about it. But the point of this adventure wasn't supposed to be "Give Quinn a purpose," and if it stops working for her, it's our job to find something which does.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Future of This Nation, With the Present Generation

Chris Pugh asks:

I wanted to know how technology played a part in your home schooling experience.

I'm going to assume that by "Technology," you are thinking something beyond the blender and the cordless phone which -- while highly useful and certainly technological improvements -- don't really lend themselves to educating my dauthter. I'm going to go out on the old tree branch here and assume you mean computers and the Internet.

Simply stated: we wouldn't be having this adventure without the Internet. The Internet is infinitely plastic and creative, which also happens to be what we'd hope Alice's academic opportunities would be. Alice takes classes online, actually seeing and hearing other students (Consort says watching her in class is like watching one of those AT&T commercials, except this actually works). She is learning to code at Many times a week, when her father isn't home and I start to get a stricken look after she asks me a question, we both go to Khan academy and learn something (and one of us actually remembers it). Socially, she has email and stays in touch with friends she's met who live throughout the world, and friends who live ten minutes away but aren't always available to hang out at our convenience. Horror stories about identity theft, hacking, online predators and Facebook notwithstanding, I am inclined to think technology is good.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Cover Me

I had a lovely-- really lovely, in fact -- night reading at Vroman's Bookstore in Pasadena, but I'm a little tired after a couple of hours of trying to keep my weirdness manageable. Therefore, tonight I shall answer a short question.

Babz asks:

I'd like to hear the story behind the book cover. The photo is hilarious and very cute.

I agree; the cover art is terrific. It hits that perfect spot between domesticity and despair. I had nothing to do with it. I'm not being modest. A few months ago, Penguin's art department -- after having read the book and what I can only imagine was a meeting about how to keep my weirdness manageable -- sent two cover ideas. This was one. I have no recollection of the other, because that's what love does to you; it blinds you. I was captivated by how they even managed to find a cover model who looked so very much like me.

About 50% of the people who see the cover think it's me. The other 50% insist it's a child.

It works perfectly well either way, and it's fun to use as a sort of an inkblot test, but I'm still very certain it's meant to be me. The fact that I'm the height of the average 7th-grade girl is what's most confusing to people.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Red Hot & Blue

Lisa I asks:

Do you prefer your tea hot or iced & do you allow your daughter to consume caffeine?

They have yet to create a temperature at which to serve tea where I won't drink it.  This week  I've been doing morning radio shows based on the East Coast, so if you heard me in Jacksonville, Florida at 9:30 am, please understand that it wasn't 9:30 am where I was. It was DARK where I was. That morning, I drank an iced-tea while waiting for the water to boil for hot tea. After the hot tea, I drank another iced-tea. And yet I still have seven horrible seconds on the radio show where I couldn't remember whether "Secular" meant "Religious" or "Not religious."  The moral I take from that is that I should have had another cup of tea before picking up that phone. Because of my insomnia, I switch to decaf tea at noon. Again, any temperature is fine. The only place where I get fussy about my tea is I won't drink Lipton's black tea. There's nothing wrong with it, except that's what I got when I was sick as a kid, so whenever I drink it, I start thinking I have strep throat.

It's hard to like something which reminds you of strep throat breath.

Until last year, Alice had no caffeine, because no one has ever looked at my child and thought, "Sweet kid, pity she's not more wakeful." But some time in the last few months, we had to get up early for some event and she was moving around the house at a pace more commonly associated with continental drift. Because I didn't have the upper-body strength to drag her about the house like a chew-toy, I gave her some of my tea. She wrinkled her nose and contined to ooze. In desperation, I added lemonade.

And the heavens opened and the angels sang, and Alice discovered she really likes Arnold Palmers.

Monday, August 13, 2012

You're Free to Do Whatever Pleases You

ChrisinNY asks:
I am about half way through your book (really enjoying it) and rather than continuing to be bitter about my daughter's public, private, and public charter school experiences, have come to the part of the program where I am blaming myself for NOT homeschooling even though she begged me to do so. Any words of comfort (like the ones you whisper to yourself when you think your homeschool experiment turns out to be, ah...misguided? have unintended consequences?)?

and Catherine asks:
I've been wondering as I read your answers to the questions so far, how do YOU manage the homeschooling thing? are there days (weeks, months) when you feel like throwing in the towel? what's it like being the teacher AND the mother AND all the other things you do? do you need a long bath and a glass of wine each night? or is it so much fun and so interesting that you are carried along by your own enthusiasm?

To me, these are variations on a theme which keeps coming up so, Chris and Catherine, you shall stand in for many.  

Try to look dignified.  

Early on in the blog book tour, someone asked me why on earth I asked for questions that would make me look like an idiot. We'll let seasoned mental-health professionals plumb the depths of that impulse, but the first reason that comes to my mind is because I want everyone to feel welcome to this party. And more than any other topic I can think of, when a parent talks about the choices made educating his or her child, someone else is going to get their feelings hurt. Or feel judged. Or just generally feel awful. And when it's something like homeschooling -- which by its very nature can be perceived as a lofted middle-finger to how most people are educating their children -- it can seem very much as if I'm smiling smugly about how right I am. And if I'm that right, we all know what you are.

 I promise you, it's not like that.  

Homeschooling is an experiment, an experiment based on what we know about our child, what seems to be delivering the best outcomes, and what looks as if it might fit within our family. But so is the public school down the street, the charter school your friends helped create, and the private school Grandma and Grandpa help pay for your kid to attend. Some experiments work out. Some don't. If this one doesn't, I pray I have the lack of ego to figure this out in time to put Alice someplace where she's getting what she needs.  

Some days -- when she takes an online class and someone who isn't me teaches her something I couldn't explain nearly as well; and she shares a joke with an online classmate; and then we hang out together while she teaches herself Java on -- I think we're doing it right. Some days -- when I'm hiding in the bedroom by 7:30 and I've declared it "Everyone makes their own damn dinner" day -- I'm a little less certain. Some hours motor along in their own enthusiasm and joy. Others feel like I'm stuck in a production of "Long Day's Journey Into Night."  

So, do I worry? Oh, yes. Do I need a long bath and a glass of wine at the end of the day? No,but that's only because I'm more of a Benadryl person -- both allergic and insomniac. In those moments before I start to breathe and drift off to sleep, I do worry that we aren't doing right by the kid.  But the thought I hold -- the thought I give to anyone who needs it -- is that humans aren't designed to only thrive in perfection. We're more durable than that. I think a child who isn't entirely happy with his or her current state of being but feels confident enough to express that feeling and try to work towards a better situation with authority figures -- both emotional and academic -- learns a valuable lesson, something to use for the rest of his or her life.

And if they can't fix it? Working your best within a less than ideal environment is a lesson, too. Let the record show I would define Alice's current educational path as mostly manageable and sometimes very nice but still less than perfect. At some level, I have to have faith that what she's getting is enough.

Does that help?

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Let's Have Another Cup of Coffee, Let's Have Another Piece of Pie

Everyone who has written in with a question, thank you. Honestly, answering these questions has been a ball and I'm looking forward to the final nine. Still looking for the perfect ones to answer, so please don't hesitate to ask me anything.

In fact, I'm so fond of these questions -- have been so pleased with how it's turning out -- that I've decided rewards must be presented. But in order to do that, for tonight I am going to create a slightly different rule; instead of you asking me a question, I'm going to ask you a question. Here it is:

Do you drink coffee or do you drink tea?

Here's why I ask: at the end of the 21 days of the Quinn Cummings Year of Learning Dangerously Blog Book Tour 2012, I'm going to put the names of all the questioners -- both those whose questions were picked and those who weren't -- into the Squeakers Thunderdome. Two will be chosen. Each will receive a signed copy of the book PLUS either coffee or tea from Intelligentsia, my very favorite caffeine-place here in L.A. I drink their tea and enjoy it thoroughly, but I understand from people who care about coffee and its marvelous bean that their coffee is insane, more like enjoying a fine wine than simply trying to wake up enough to operate heavy machinery. And, as someone who wants craftspeople of all kinds to be properly recognized and rewarded, how can I not love their attitude towards their growers? From their website:

...In the broadest terms, these coffees should be understood as a true collaboration, with both sides investing a great deal of time, energy and ideas to produce something great. At the end of this process, the coffee farmer who grows an award-winning cup is an artisan, and should be regarded as such. We believe human effort is the most critical factor in quality coffee and that the growers who do the best work should get the best price and individual recognition.

You deserve this. Send in a question and get in the mix. Obviously, everyone who already sent in a question is automatically in the running. Well, except for you, Anonymous. Which, after the amount of times we've talked, feels so very wrong.

But for the rest of you, with any luck, by Labor Day you'll be sitting in your favorite chair, drinking the best cup of coffee you've had in your life [or tea!] and reading about me trying to educate my child without losing my mind.

How's that?

Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Middle of the Road

Arlene Pellicane asks:

My kids are in 1st and 3rd grade and we love our public school which has a dual immersion program in Spanish. They are being taught mostly in Spanish and a little English which we really love. But for junior high, maybe homeschooling. Any thoughts about advantages of homeschooling particularly for the junior high years?

One of the ongoing topics among any group of homeschoolers is "How long do you plan to do it?" Some families are in for a year, because of changing situations in their lives; some plan to go the entire twelve. A few plan to take them until high school, letting the professionals do the final buff and polish. However, in all the times I heard this conversation play out, I cannot remember a single parent saying "We're very excited about her trying out bricks-and-mortar middle school!"

Not one.

Middle school is necessary and I believe there are special extra-comfortable couches waiting in heaven for those teachers who voluntarily take on groups of thirteen year-olds for a living, but it's a febrile cohort. As Alice and her friends have reached that age, I'm pulled aside at least twice a month by someone who never imagined themselves homeschooling but are dismayed by their middle-school options here in Los Angeles. Weirdly enough, in a city of millions, there are about five public middle schools where the kids seem to be doing well, both educationally and emotionally. This isn't a secret; every parent tracking these things knows it. We've got dozens of interesting high schools, but middle schools?


The whispers about "What are we doing to do if he doesn't get into  LACES" start, and the next thing you know someone is buttonholing me at a birthday party as I hoard the deviled eggs, wanting to talk about homeschooling a pre-teen. Here's what I know:


We're still running the experiment. I'm hoping the research I did and the work we're putting in to Alice's education is doing right by her, but I could be completely screwing her up in some way I can't even see or imagine. Then again, the parent walking her son to the school down the street or working extra hours to cover private school is in the same dilemma. I doubt any generation before us has thought more about our children's education. History will show whether this kind of intensive focus made any difference whatsoever.

Now, here's what I believe. My daughter appears to be learning things. She has friends and is open to interesting opportunities because we can schedule our lives a little more creatively. We appear to experience less of the preadolescent drama around here, I'm guessing because she's not marinating in it six hours a day. I'm not hearing about how I'm making her wear LAST WEEK'S SHOES!!!  No one from her school has written mean things about her on the Internet. I believe not going through these situations won't actually prevent her from becoming a kind, hardworking, interested, interesting adult. We'll see, won't we?

Middle school can be done online. There are classes to take in person so kids can still stare at one another and pass notes about cuteness. There are classes to take online, so you don't have to dredge up Spanish grammar yourself. The options are endless. The option can also include deciding to do it for a year, see if it works for you. If you all grow heartily sick of each other after a month, you can always take them to the nearest public school.

I've heard good things about it.

Friday, August 10, 2012

That's the Sound of the Men, Workin' On the Chain Gang

Susannah S asks:

If I remember correctly, Consort has a job with an office and such. Does he ever feel left out of the homeschooling experience?

Readers, pay heed: I'm about to explain what Consort does for a living. The more delicate among you may want to skip the following paragraph.

Consort works with start-up companies who have business models based on specific technology protocols called IPv6, and/or exchange-based business models, and/or the more arcane aspects of digital media distribution. In certain corners, Consort is that guy - the one who knows what to do; who remembers the smoldering wrecks of businesses which have come before; the one who is wined and dined. Well, it's frequently start-ups so he's taken to Starbucks and they hope he doesn't order the venti. And what's IPv6, you might ask?

Please don't. The answer takes the better part of the evening and sometimes requires a whiteboard and dry-erase markers in many colors. You know those parts of the Internet you never actually think about, except to pray they won't go belly-up on you when you're ordering Christmas presents really, really late? It's the next version. Consort is one of the people who thinks about it so we don't have to. When he's needed, he's very needed, and he proves he can go up to 72 hours on nothing more than slightly withered muffins, old coffee and the occasional affectionate text message from a family member. But when he's not knee-deep in something big, he works from home, because he can.

When he's between big assignments, he takes the same passionate, engaged, faintly alarming energy and applies it to unfinished projects around the house. Sometimes that means he scans, names and dates  eighty years' worth of family photographs. Sometimes that means he takes apart this entire blog and reorders the right-hand side, because something about it has been bugging him. Mostly, though -- and to our family's eternal relief -- that energy gets poured into his beloved daughter's education.

On Monday, I'll say to him in an irritated way, "Her chemistry book keeps talking about moles, and I'm starting to think they don't mean brown spots or those mammals with the tiny eyes." Ah, his brain thinks, a PROJECT. He'll lunge towards her book, eyes aglint. Alice and I, seasoned as we are, dive for cover. He refreshes himself on what he freely admits was his least favorite science, scruffs his daughter and leads her to the kitchen table. Two days later, she understands moles well enough to complete the final part of any educational experiment in our house: she has to teach it to me.

I Heard There was a Secret Chord/That David Played, and it Pleased the Lord

David Rakoff died today. If you aren't familiar with his writing, go here and listen to a bit of what he did for This American Life. His seemingly effortless grace and verbal fluidity alternately made me  long to meet him and be fairly certain it was best we never met, because I might simply lapse into stunned silence in his presence. Or worse yet, babble, trying to find in a page what he'd sketch out in a sentence. According to my friend Julie Klam, in person he was just that lovely, that smart and that eloquent as a friend.

Goodbye, Mr. Rakoff. Thanks for all those lovely words.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

It Takes Two, Baby

I am so sorry about missing a post yesterday. I was in DC doing the Diane Rehm show today, which simply couldn't have been more fun unless salted caramels were involved, but I basically flew the better part of yesterday, after doing KTLA live earlyish yesterday morning. Upon entering my hotel room last night, I  was so tired I couldn't figure out how to sign on to Wifi, which is nature's way of saying "Quinn, you're too dense to answer any question readers would pose". Since I shirked my responsibility last night for answering a question every day, today I shall answer two. TWO, I say!

Emily asks:

What happened to Dr. Bunstein? Did he perish?

Not as far as we know. We had someone staying with us who tried his level best but forgot the "We NEVER leave the back gate ajar, even for a minute" rule, and Dr. B headed off the other adventures. Signs didn't bring him back; neither did yodeling maybe the weirdest rabbit name ever throughout the neighborhood. I'd be distraught except for two things:

1. Dr. Marvin K. Bunstein, DDS had a marvelous time every day of his life that he was here, with the possible high point being when he attacked my hand mercilessly (My favorite day, of course, was when I had his testicles removed). We never went looking for a rabbit, he dropped into our lives without invitation, but I think we were excellent hosts.

2. If anyone could walk out the yard of someone's house and somehow manage to land an even better gig, it was that rabbit.

Oh, I have one more thing working in my favor:

3. No matter how I spin this story, for once I can't see how something is my fault.

Alice is angling for another rabbit.

Speaking of Alice, several people alertly noticed I called Consort "Daniel," and wondered if this was a new thing. No, it's a book thing; his name in the book is Daniel, and since my life is crammed with book-business right now, I absently typed it. I like the name Daniel well enough, but of all the names that aren't actually his name, I prefer Consort. Chalk it up to why I don't lie (can't remember details), and know that he's back to Consort status.

Several people have commented about how quite a few of my blog titles recently have been song lyrics. Actually, about 90% of the titles have been song lyrics since I started this, about seven years ago. Mark Moran noticed most of my blog titles are from songs from the late seventies to the early eighties, proving the music I heard from 10-14 will be there in my brain probably long after I'm too addled to be allowed to eat with a fork.  I'm not sure there was a question in there, Mark, but I am choosing to take it as a challenge and see if I can title outside of that half-decade.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

I'll Take Your Words and Be Gone

A friend posted a review of the book for a homeschool chat board. He sent it to me and I was so impressed by what he wrote that I asked his permission to use it here. It's not part of the blog book tour, but it's awfully good, and his metaphor is the best I've ever seen to describe where I think all education is headed. See you with a question and answer later today...

A family friend has just released an intriguing and hilarious book, The Year of Learning Dangerously: Adventures in Homeschooling. She eloquently describes the book in this week's Wall Street Journal. Here is my favorite quote:
"As our habits evolve, it won't be home schooling as we've known it, but it won't be brick-and-mortar schooling, either. I call it "roam schooling." Imagine that your high-school junior spends half of every day at the brick-and-mortar school up the street. Two afternoons a week, he logs into an art-history seminar being taught by a grad student in Paris. He takes computer animation classes at the local college, sings in the church choir and dives at the community pool. He studies Web design on YouTube. He and three classmates see a tutor at the public library who preps them for AP Chemistry. He practices Spanish on Skype and takes cooking lessons at a nearby restaurant every Saturday morning. Is this home schooling or regular school? Who cares? He's learning."

To read the full article, go to ...

As presaged by the title, her writing is quite irreverent, punchy, and witty yet well researched and highly informative. With her development of the concept of Roam Schooling, she helps me better understand my own family's efforts to integrate the strongest and avoid the weakest aspects of home, online, public, and private schooling for both of our boys. In the end, our educational result looks more like a smorgasbord of all of the options rather than an exclusive commitment to any one of them, with each boy getting a remarkably different balance of all four as has suited their developmental needs and personal interests.

Perhaps now we learn just like we eat, sometimes we cook at home with a treasured family recipe (teaching at home with our own curriculum), sometimes we throw a frozen dinner in the microwave (teaching at home with stock curricular materials), sometimes we gather with others for a potluck (parkdays, field trips, book clubs, and homeschool classes), sometimes we download a unique recipe from our favorite cooking site or order food for delivery (online classes), sometimes we enjoy the economies of scale at an inexpensive cafeteria (public or hybrid public programs), sometimes we dine with those who share our chosen faith (faith based teaching), and sometimes we enjoy the atmosphere and flavors of a distinctive private restaurant (independent private schools). Taste the education and enjoy!

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

My Holiday's Complete

That loquacious scamp Anonymous asks:

Not to be a nag, but when do we get the rest of your summer vacation story??

Nony, you could never be a nag. Although, frankly, you're kind of hogging the conversation. As soon as we get on the other side of the QUINN CUMMINGS "YEAR OF LEARNING DANGEROUSLY BLOG BOOK TOUR 2012: HELLO CLEVELAND!!!" we shall continue with my travels. In the meanwhile, importuning Anonymous, let's you and I finally admit what others have been saying for a while; we have incredible chemistry together. For the sake of my beloved partner, I must speak to other people.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Pictures of You

The ever-loquacious Anonymous asks:

Will Daughter/Alice be part of the publicity? Will we ever see her?

Excellent question, Anon, if I may call you that. After no small amount of deep conversations over our caffeines of choice, Consort and I decided that it's very unlikely Alice will do publicity with me.

Highly unlikely.

Almost immeasurably unlikely.

(History has taught me that to say "Never" is to do that very thing, usually within a lunar cycle. So sometimes I mean "Never" and just don't say it.)

Just because her mother has this weird hobby of writing about her doesn't mean my daughter was shaped to be a foot soldier for either side of the education battle. The picture part, though, was trickier. I knew it was normal human curiosity to want to see her, in some ways the heart of the book, and most people would think nothing more than "Huh. Looks nothing like her mother." But every time I'd think about signing off on a recent picture of her -- handing it to some worthy person in marketing -- I'd actually grow ill. It felt wrong, and intrusive. She never asked to be a public figure, even tangentially.

Then, a flash; the kid is one of those people whose appearance changes dramatically every few years as she grows. Not me; there are pictures of me at six hours old where I'm recognizably Quinn, only bald and puffy. But Alice shapeshifts with the ease of Madonna in her heyday, which meant I could use a picture of her from when we started this whole homeschooling adventure, four years ago -- thereby giving a contemporaneous visual to go with the article, or the interview -- and be reasonably comfortable that I had exposed Alice 5.0, but not Alice 7.2. Is it justification and denial? Yeah, probably.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Every Day I Write the Book

Caron asks:

Why did you decide to write this book?

People who knows things tell writers to write the book they wish they could read. When researching homeschooling, I had libraries full of books about education and homeschooling. I could actually wear a highlighter out, though, before I found a book about homeschooling where the writer -- usually a parent who homeschooled -- was anything but serenely confident that homeschooling was best for her family. Actually, the general sense was that homeschooling was best for everyone's family. I understood the confidence; people who are iffy on something don't tend to write books about that subject, and when everyone in your life keeps telling you what a bad idea homeschooling is, eventually you're going to get your back up and decide that no, homeschooling is the very best choice of all. Even so, that confidence -- across all the subsets of homeschooling -- was unwavering. It gave me the same creeping sense of inadequacy I've felt around certain La Leche League members.

And yet I love people who are certain, if for no other reason than they provide such a nice contrast to me. "Perhaps," I would think as I closed the most recent tome on homeschooling, "I'll start homeschooling and I'll become confident, just like them! And then I'll stop chewing my cuticles into tartare!"  

Um, well.  

I had a panic attack my second day of homeschooling, the day I realized my daughter had no compunction about using the same trick she'd used to great success on all her previous teachers: the "I couldn't possibly do that terribly complicated math I already did last year!" trick. Only then did it occur to me I knew how to deal with parent/child peskiness, but not teacher/child peskiness. I raced through all my books. No one, it seemed, had ever experienced a panic attack. No one was ever afraid of their kid's capacity to outsmart them. The doubts they alluded to all sounded annoying but small and manageable, like jet lag or pillow hair. According to these books, no other homeschooling mother encountered the Ebola of paralyzing self-doubt.

I wrote the book so people outside of homeschooling could see what it looks like in the corners. But mostly I wrote it because I suspect there's a parent somewhere who has thought, "You know, homeschooling might actually make sense for us, might make our lives easier and happier, but you have to be supremely confident and know exactly what you're doing before you set out."  

I'm here to say you don't.


 LOVING your questions; keep them coming! Remember, they don't have to be about homeschooling exclusively. I also have cats, an elderly dog and insomnia. All are fair topics.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

You May Be Right, I May Be Crazy

The stalwart Robin Raven asks:

How do you respond when people ask if you recommend homeschooling? It's my understanding that you're passionate about it being right for many, but I imagine not everyone. So I was wondering how you respond to those seeking that sort of general advice.

Oh, thank you, Robin. This is a conversation which needs airing, and then reairing, and then possible bringing out and airing again. I DON'T THINK HOMESCHOOLING IS RIGHT FOR MANY PEOPLE. People work full-time. Some people know themselves well enough to know they're better parents for not being full-time parents. Some parents and children love each other very much but aren't wired to learn together. I'm not even sure if it's right for my child. I can tell you that in this moment she appears to be happy, engaged, learning things which will matter to her next week and next year, but honestly I have no idea if this is the right path for her. It's back to my analogy of live-cutting the Olympics; this is one way to tell the story, and possibly not the best way. I second-guess Tweets I put up, so you know I'm going to stay awake at night worrying whether homeschooling was a good idea or a spectacular folly. Only I can delete Tweets; I have yet to figure out how to delete three years of education.   I wrote the book to explain what we did, what I went through, and to take note of a rapidly-growing cohort in the U.S. Thirty years from now, let's see if America is better off for these homeschoolers, or if my daughter is working at something she loves and bothering to visit me in the home. Only then will I feel comfortable being able to say "This was a success."

And now if you'll excuse me, I woke at 4:00 this morning to be on a morning show based out of New York and I'm starting to see penguins where none might actually exist. See you tomorrow.

Friday, August 03, 2012

I Never Was There When Brains Were Handed 'Round

The ever-prolific Anonymous askes: want questions that make you sound like an idiot?

Not exactly. It's just that answering questions where I sound polished and composed, the captain of my destiny, a paragon of some corner of womanhood, are very, very hard to do. This is because I'm happier noticing what I just screwed up. This is possibly because I was at my most famous during the Mean Girl years of education and middle-school girls have very little patience with any fame which isn't theirs. In my head dwells a permanent seventh-grader, sneering at me and hissing "You think you're so great."  

She's wearing a Lacoste shirt, Clinque lip gloss and K-Swiss tennis shoes, in case you're curious.  

This blog was based, from the beginning, on the idea that the minute I get some sense of confidence about how I'm doing anything which really matters-- like, say, parenting -- I will do something loudly idiotic in public to remind me that, yes, I'm not really so great. I'm fine. I'm intermittently good. Sometimes I'm wonderful. But never let it be said I think I'm great.  

Besides, it's more fun to write about the broken bits than the shiny parts. Writing about the shiny parts goes something like:  

Here's this thing which is wonderful. Amazing, actually.'s mine.  


(Panicked silence.)  

Um...did I mention how amazing it is? I did?   Oh.  

Broken bits? Well, I can get a whole blog out of sexing cats. And there's the pleasure of, during the heights (or depths) of some idiocy of mine, my brain coos "Patience, my pet. This is going to make an excellent anecdote later."   And that voice in my head does a glorious job of drowning the mean girl.

Reminder: I'm still taking questions! Ask me a question in the "Comments" section and I'll put in in the pile of possibles for the next 18 days.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

All Gone to Look for America

Welcome back to the Quinn Cummings "Year of Learning Dangerously" Blog Book Tour 2012!

For those people just stepping in, here's what's happening: I'm answering questions people have sent in through the "Comments" section [Note: I don't post the questions in the comments section, but it's a good way to keep the questions organized at my end]. Each day, for the next 19 days, I will answer one question. If you have a blog, I'll link to it. I'll try to pick the questions I think have the widest appeal or give me the greatest likelihood of my sounding like an idiot.

Today, Melodee asks: What's the best and worst parts of homeschooling?

As luck would have it, the best and worst part of homeschooling is the same thing. I'll explain, but it will take a brief digression. Yet again.

Recently, for reasons even too digressive for me to go into here, Consort, Alice and I were in the main control room of Studio 8H at NBC's headquarters at 30 Rockefeller Plaza. The control room, if you don't know, is the place where live television shows are directed and this particular one was the nerve center for, among other things, Saturday Night Live. Consort--who had directed television shows from rooms just like this--was in heaven. He was carefully explaining everything to Alice.

"See," he said, pointing to several dozen screens on the video wall which ran the length of the room.  "Right here, the director gets the input from each cameraman, sees what shot they have, and  decides which image goes out live to the audience. And because it's live, what he-"

"Or she," I threw in reflexively.

"-or she," he incorporated smoothly, "decides, becomes the story people see. Now, on SNL, they have four or five cameras and they have a rehearsal, so everything gets decided ahead of time. But when the Olympics are getting directed from here, they'll take feed from about forty or more video feeds down the side of the screen, and there's no rehearsal, and there will dozens of people in this room, all doing their jobs, talking, yelling, being distracting. The director will still have to sit here, look at all those inputs, and decide which one is telling the story best from one second to the next."

Alice, who hadn't exactly been captivated by the previous conversation between Consort and our guide about NBC's fiber-optic upgrade, perked up at the thought of a global and public catastrophe.

"What happens if they get it wrong?"

"Wrong? You mean like they cut to the wrong shot? It happens. The director just tells the Technical Director to cut to another camera and they move on." Consort shrugged.

"No," Alice said, and then stopped for a second. "What if the director tells the wrong story, or misses the real story?"

"By the time you're directing the Olympics," Consort said, "you're seasoned enough so you're probably not going to tell the wrong story, exactly. And there is an entire staff of people helping out. But do directors make mistakes? All the time. You're editing the show live and you can only take in so much information every second. You hope some combination of experience and intuition will cover you when stuff gets crazy. Most people watching won't notice what you've missed. You just keep going. Then you come back the next day and hope you get it a little better."

It has taken me nearly four years of homeschooling, but I have finally found my job analogy: live-directing the Olympics. Which leads us back to the question about what I love and hate about homeschooling. If you choose to educate your child in a bricks-and-mortar school, you may not like everything they're doing there, but most of the decisions are made for you. You may enjoy, or hate, helping your child create a cross-section of the planet with papier-mâché, but you didn't have to decide whether that was an excellent project or a complete waste of wet paper. Homeschooling parents are deciding things all the time. You're creating your ideal classroom and nothing is assumed. Everything is possible, God help you.

Should we do more grammar? Is learning to diagram sentences useful? Archaic? Archaic but useful?

Does factoring matter? Should it come before Geometry? Or after?

How about your son's new passion for World War I? Should you just let him wallow in the Austro-Hungarian empire and assume there's benefit in that or should you insist he focus back on Washington crossing the Delaware? And your daughter and her love of Bactrian camels and Giant Sloths? Where does that fit in?

There's that wonderful exhibit at the art museum; clean-up day at the river; science day at the university; the petting zoo for the baby; sewing lessons with Auntie Lil; and a dozen other excellent and worthy events to choose from. Are you booking these into your schedule?

Each camera-feed -- each opportunity -- needs to be considered, if only briefly, then acted upon. Or not. Maybe the shot of the Croatian swimmer towelling off can be dismissed out of hand, but there may be fifteen images of equal value on the preview monitors any of which would tell an interesting story and it's up to you, the director, to make a choice. And then another choice. And another choice...

In 2012, home-based education has the glorious excess of options a previous generation of homeschooling families couldn't have even imagined but at some point, all these options start turning into noise. With each choice you make there are an infinite number you didn't make. You let your intuition and experience help you cut and create the story of their education. But this is live, and it's the one shot you get at it, and you start to understand why directors of live shows are rumored to drink a lot.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

But I Can Still Read What You're Thinking

Ursula asked:

What is your best short form response to folks who are puzzled/horrified/curious/judge-y and ask you, "Why are you homeschooling?"  In other words, what's the funny/truthful/self-confident yet non-preachy thing you say when the checkout grocery store checkout lady asks if your daughter is sick (and, hence, with you at 11 a.m. on a Wednesday)... or when your second cousin (president of the PTA) corners you at Thanksgiving, etc.?

 and Nancy Piccione asked:

How do you manage to discuss home education with family members who are confused or have a hard time understanding your decision?

Let's hereafter call this the "PTA president/Cousin" issue because, honestly, the checkout lady isn't going to cause you to lose sleep. If the checkout lady thinks I'm breaking my child, I won't be ecstatic to hear it, but for social interaction that's less troublesome than if she coughes in her hand and then touches my broccoli.

(This actually happened to me. I almost demanded another head of broccoli but decided I was being fussy and that people around the world would be GRATEFUL for coughed-on vegetables. I scrubbed that broccoli, peeled and steamed it, but still got a coughing cold which lasted nearly a month.)

Strangers and acquaintances are going to have ALL sorts of opinions about homeschooling. I don't feel obliged to take any of them more seriously than the woman we saw in the subway in New York who was yelling at us to stop stealing her hair. For the socialization question, I'm tempted to print up 4x6 cards explaining exactly what Alice does every day so a person I will never see again doesn't worry about her welfare. But the fact is, the strangers and acquaintances don't actually CARE care. This is small talk, only one micron above asking if it's hot enough for you outside.  I've found that 90% of checkout lady-level questions can be answered with:

1) She does a bunch of stuff in the afternoons.
2) She has tons of friends.
3) I couldn't teach math, either. Her father teaches her math.

The PTA President/Cousin dynamic is different. Maybe you love your cousin. Maybe you don't love your cousin but have to see her at Thanksgiving and for a week at the lake every summer and would prefer not to have it be weird. Maybe you would secretly LOVE to have it out with your cousin but it would break your mother's heart. The PTAP/C must be treated with respect. I have a variation of that. I have more than the average number of people in my life -- people I genuinely like and admire -- who teach in elementary or secondary school. These people chose to teach; most of them love to teach; and I understand if it appears as if I'm coughing on their broccoli.

Homeschooling in Los Angeles, we have an advantage in that we belong to the Los Angeles Unified School District, an institution only an 8th-generation bureaucrat could love. Fun fact: there are more students in the LAUSD than there are people living in Austin, Texas.  I can say with complete honesty that I love many teachers and respect what they do but I hate having to work within a system that large. No teacher in the LAUSD would begrudge me that. Then I mention how little evidence there is to support the benefits of standardized testing. Another fun fact: one recent study showed that people who do well on standardized tests have a propensity for shallow thinking. Most teachers I know are heartily sick of spending an entire school year preparing for a single, state-mandated test. I end by harkening back to a time when a classroom didn't have 36 students and 35 chairs, when teachers could set their own educational schedule based on, oh I don't know, maybe the people in that classroom, and when everyone involved wasn't stretched, exhausted and prohibited from doing what they were trained to do. I think everyone would agree that such a classroom would bring some homeschoolers back.

People who are dedicated to teaching -- or as with a PTAP/C, devoted to volunteering for the schools -- may think we're sneering at them. I'm not. And even if you are, it's just easier to blame your decision on The System rather than The Teacher. Any person who has worked for any length of time with any public school knows how many hardworking, highly skilled, well-meaning people are bogged down by rules, ordinances, and "this-is-the-way-we've-always-done it" attitudes within these systems. Dinner with your cousin is easier if you praise her to the skies for fighting torpor and bureaucracy and for making the effort to improve the school experience for her children. Hey, for everyone's children. It's important that you understand how what she's doing is worthwhile. And if she continues to want to discuss how you're hurting your children by not having them in a classroom six hours a day, ask about her latest fundraising goals. If I know PTA presidents, that will take you all the way through pumpkin pie.

This is a sweeping generalization but I find most people who have a truly hard time accepting your decision to homeschool have some sort of skin in the game. This choice you made for your family has somehow become about them. If you want some degree of peace, figure out where that anxiety lies and neutralize it. I've had some luck by freely admitting I have no idea if this is a good idea or not, but that since my child appears to be happy, has friends, becomes interested in new things and knows more chemistry than her mother, we're going to continue until the situation warrants otherwise.

And then I excuse myself to get a cup of tea.