In her new book, The Year of Learning Dangerously: Adventures in Homeschooling, actress-turned-businesswoman and writer Quinn Cummings offers a candid look at the challenges, pitfalls, and rewards of homeschooling her fourth-grade daughter, Alice. Debunking myths surrounding what some people think of as an archaic practice, Cummings—who was nominated for an Academy Award at ten for her role in 1977's The Goodbye Girl—offers insights for parents considering homeschooling.
In The Year of Learning Dangerously Cummings is unafraid to tell the truth about her own initial misgivings about homeschooling her child. She admits that on the second day of working with Alice, she locked herself in the laundry room and hyperventilated into a paper bag. "I found myself suddenly, brutally aware of how completely unqualified I was for this assignment," she writes. After this bout of panic, though, Quinn remembers why she took on this responsibility in the first place, and continues her journey into the wild world of homeschooling.
Recently, TakePart caught up with Quinn about her new book.
TakePart: Did you ever think you would homeschool?
Quinn: No. I was most assuredly not your natural candidate for homeschooling. The way I thought of it was the way I imagine most people think of it—that it's for somebody of extreme faith. It's either your religious faith, your faith in yourself, or your lack of faith in the ability of large groups of people to educate other large groups of people…I just couldn't have imagined being in a position where I'd say, "We've got to give this a try."
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TakePart: What made you consider homeschooling?
Quinn: The first element was Alice had spent two years convincing two different, very talented, well-meaning and passionate teachers that she didn't know how to do long division with remainders, yet still needed to continue to learn how to do it possibly indefinitely when, in fact, she didn't like it. I realized to my sorrow I had given birth to me. I had given birth to someone who was fine with doing the work that came naturally and easily to her, but someone who had a certain distaste for doing anything she didn't find interesting or that didn't come easily to her. I thought, "Oh, no. I know how this story ends." And the story ends with a grown-up version of myself, only figuring it out long after it could have done me any good, that I actually like learning and that I did have the capacity to take on hard projects. It would have been so much better in my life if I would have figured that out in, say, fourth grade.
TakePart: What were your biggest fears about taking on this challenge?
Quinn: Our hopes were that she would learn how to learn. By the second day, I realized that my daughter was prepared to play the same games with me that she played with her teachers. Then I degenerated hopelessly into "Oh, I've broken the child. This is going to be a horribly long year where we lose all sorts of ground and we will come to kill one another. I should move onto my plan B right now." Only I didn't have one, so I had to make this homeschooling thing work.
TakePart: What misconceptions do people have around homeschooling?
Quinn: There have been multiple studies comparing homeschooled children with the general population. In all ways that personality and socialization is measured, they do just fine, and in many cases, they tend to do better. They are more comfortable with older people and with younger people. Fun fact: When they are adults, children who are homeschooled are more likely to vote. They obviously have some sense of a community if they are voting.
TakePart: What are the surprising things you learned through homeschooling?
Quinn: That the show Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader is not something I should necessarily be going on any time soon. There are a lot of details from elementary school you forget once you have left it. Things that you look back on as you start teaching it and say, "I kind of remember that" or "I think they had a song for that." Then there are things where I think, they've made that up since I was a child.
TakePart: As Alice gets older, do you think you'll continue to homeschool?
Quinn: I think it is my responsibility to try my best to keep my ego out of her education. I think we have to watch her and let her watch herself and let her speak up. If she wants to be in brick and mortar schools, and it's the right thing for her to do, I would hope that I would have the sense and the grace to say, "Alright, let's get you set up."
TakePart: What do you hope readers take away from your book?
Quinn: I wrote the book I wish had existed when I first started to homeschool. I loved all of these books I read about homeschooling and I found them to be incredibly informative and revelatory, but all of the parents sounded so calm, so serene and so sure. When I was breathing into a paper bag in my laundry room on the second day, I found myself thinking, I can't do this because I don't seem to be serene. I thought maybe I'm not the only one who thought this might be the right thing for their family but is still panicking...I'm here to say, you don't have to be certain. You can try, and if it doesn't work out, you can always put them back in school. I have no idea in the long run if I'm making the right decision for my child. I think we're doing right by her now, and for the moment, that has to be enough.
Jenny is the Education Editor at TakePart. She has been writing for TakePart since 2009 and previously worked in film and television development. She has taught English in Vietnam and tutors homeless children in Los Angeles. Email Jenny | @jennyinglee | TakePart.com