breaking into the public school to play sports

I was in the New York Times, recently, talking about homeschooling and sports. Which is not a topic I know much about.

I didn’t play sports as a kid. I didn’t want to play them. I didn’t care about them.

My brothers both played baseball, though, and they were very serious about it for a while. So when the Times editor contacted me and asked if I could have a little statement about whether or not homeschoolers should be permitted to participate in public school sports (after all, we do pay taxes), I called my brothers.

“It’s stupid,” said the older one, Jake, now 22. “If you’re good, and you want to go farther, you can’t, because rec ends at fourteen or fifteen.” He added, “It’s a good thing Tim Tebow got to play at his high school even though he was homeschooled, right? But they had to go to court for that. We shouldn’t have to go to court. That’s ridiculous.”

The younger one, Gabe, who went to high school before he went to college, didn’t care as much. “Whatever. It’s not like I was gonna go pro…” He had been the star pitcher on his team at some point– I still remember his scowl of concentration, and how the moms went crazy when he threw the ball.

I dashed off the piece– the New York Times needed it in two hours. They needed a pic and a bio. Shit, I thought. I don’t have ANY good headshots! I’m going to blow this whole thing!

The New York Times told me that “homeschooler” is two words. “Home-schooler.” That’s the way they do it. “But a lot of us combine them…” I said. It was hopeless. The editor did agree, though, to change the bit in my bio that she’d edited to “writing a book about having been schooled at home,” after I explained that it sounded weird to me that way. “Schooled at home?” That sounds like there were a lot of rulers and a chalkboard involved. And possibly plaid and argyle. Sometimes I fear we will never understand one another…

I sent the piece in. And then I told my mom about it. I read it to her.

“Oh, that’s not how it went,” she said. “We didn’t wish we could get into the school. I decided against even trying. Why would we want to use the school?”

Continue reading breaking into the public school to play sports

what part of me is the homeschooling?

Sometimes I really can’t tell what makes me different and what makes me similar. I can’t tell what part is the homeschooling and what part isn’t.

I was talking to Peter Gray, over at Psychology Today, about being unschooled. He was asking me some questions, and I was trying to answer. For a while, when people asked me about my education, I would try to point out the ways in which I am special. In case they thought that I might be a dud.

I am pretty special. I’m smart. I’m confident. Once my face was on AOL’s front page and all of Bear’s relatives saw it when they opened their browsers and then we were like, “You guys still use AOL? Seriously?” But that’s neither here nor there. What I’m saying is– I could brag.

Everyone can brag. There’s always something to brag about.

But the more I think about it, the really interesting thing about me is how little there is to brag about. How normal I am. How much my skills, at the end of the day, are skills that people have whether or not they spent their childhood in the woods or at a desk.

“I’m kinda normal,” I told Peter. “It’s pretty lame.” I changed my mind. “It’s pretty cool.”

I write essays about homeschooling and people always say, “Whatever! That’s not because of homeschooling! That totally happened to me!”

I’m sure it did. And in my case, it’s probably also because of homeschooling. But honestly, it’s nearly impossible to tell.

Because homeschooling isn’t something that’s separate from my life– it is my life. It informed everything I am. But after everything that I am being informed by this radically different kind of childhood, here I am, being sort of cynical and ambitious and not incredibly famous and sometimes totally down on myself and having gotten a nose job despite feeling beautiful as a girl and trying to figure out how I fit into this big, complicated city. The things that I struggle with are often the same things that my peers struggle with– and most of them went to school.

Interesting. Interesting how much we always want to focus on the differences. People have been trying to focus on my differences for my entire life. In what ways do I stand out? Does my education work? Can I function in society?

It worked. I can, and do. But as a result, I look a lot like everyone else who is functioning in society.

And when I get over the disappointment of not turning out immediately wildly famous or fantastically brilliant, I am glad. And I wonder what all the fuss is about.

Because if I could turn out just fine without a formal education, then maybe we should just be talking about why so many other kids don’t turn out just fine with one, rather than what about me might be weird.

(I’m not a good dancer, but I love dancing!)

*  *  *

A version of this piece also appears on the Huffington Post here.

Home Education in the UK: a report from a girl who lived it

This is a guest post from an awesome young woman who didn’t go to school in the UK. You can check out her blog here.

Hello! My name’s Kayleigh, and I live in the United Kingdom; in the north of England, in a county called Yorkshire where it rains most of the time and has a lot of pretty countryside. I was home educated all my life up until the age of 16, and the awesome Kate has asked me to contribute to her blog to share my experience of what it’s like not going to school here in the UK.

The law in the United Kingdom states that children must be given a full-time education suited to their age and ability, whether that be at school ‘or otherwise’. So long as parents can prove their children are receiving a suitable full-time education at home, it is perfectly legal. Mostly, here in the UK we refer to what Kate calls unschooling, as home education. I’m not entirely sure why the term unschooling hasn’t caught on here too as it’s much less of a mouthful!

The education authorities for the local area are obliged to keep track of any home educating families they are aware of, and carry out regular home visits to ensure the children are learning. Here is where it sometimes becomes a little sticky. The officers that carry out these visits are generally the same people that carry out inspections on schools, so they frequently have a very narrow view of how to determine if a child is learning. Particularly with unschooling methods, it’s not always easy for parents to provide documentary evidence that their child is learning what the government feels is appropriate for that age. How can you prove in written form that your child has a good knowledge of basic mathematics, when he or she only uses their skills in the context of some other task, e.g. baking, cooking, helping with the grocery shopping?

Continue reading Home Education in the UK: a report from a girl who lived it

going to school with Bear

Bear took me to see his middle school and high school. This is out in California, in the Bay Area, where we spent Christmas with his family. The schools were composed of lots of long, low buildings– a series of ranch houses, bumping into each other at interesting angles. We started at the high school. Through a window, I saw a skeleton.

“That’s the supply closet,” explained Bear.

“Just like I imagined,” I said. Which wasn’t exactly true, because the skeleton was wearing a hat. I couldn’t have predicted that.

He pointed at various doors and windows. “That’s where I had calc.” “That’s where I had bio…no….that’s the art room. Stools mean either science or art.”

He showed me where he used to hang out, on this low, concrete wall, in a little courtyard. And here, on the steps. And here was the library, and the enormous sports’ fields and the enormous pool. It was like a compound, where people might live for decades without leaving. They might play football and baseball and volleyball and water polo (wait…unless that means horses), and stay forever.

“It has everything!” I said, impressed.

It was the most time I’d ever spent at a high school.

Continue reading going to school with Bear

magical childhood

Sometimes I forget how magical my childhood was.

Sometimes I’m reminded.

Over Thanksgiving, which Bear and I spent at my parents’ house, I was going through some old stuff. A wooden trunk, brimming with watercolor paintings, cloth-bound journals, felt boots I’d made, and the slender, bleached  deer jawbones I’d found in the woods.

I used to imagine, as a child, that a portal might open up in the forest, and I could step through, into another world. In that other world, I might meet wandering mages and disgraced royals, passing through the great forest in belted tunics and doe-skin breeches, carrying staffs and swords and hidden daggers. Wearing talismans with strange symbols.

The trunk in my childhood bedroom is a little like a portal. Opening it, I was overwhelmed. I stepped back into another world. I remembered, all at once.

Continue reading magical childhood

notes from an unschooled world wanderer

This is a guest post. I met Twyla a couple months ago, when she came to NYC. And then, last month, we both happened to be in London at the same time, so we hung out there, too. I would hang out with this girl anywhere in the world. And I might have to, if I want to see her, because she is always somewhere new. When I think of everything right about unschooling, I think about Twyla.

I asked her for a bio and here is what she wrote: I am a 19-year-old nomad. I left my home town three months ago, where I used to teach partner dance with my dad, study what interested me and live life. After Istanbul I plan to go to Beirut to continue learning Arabic. As I travel I like to focus on language, dance and food. My blog is

I asked her to tell us a little bit about her life, as a traveler and an unschooler. This is her guest post:

My first night in Istanbul was a little overwhelming. I had committed to renting a room there for the next two months. But of course I explored the rest of the house.

The living room – converted into an art studio for my land lady – smelled of old cigarettes. The warped white walls were laden with paintings in all stages of completion. The floor was splattered with paint, and tubes of acrylic rested peacefully on a stained wooden shelf.

In my room a creaky bunk bed (missing its top bunk) pushed up against the garish green wall. Luckily I like garish colors.

When I did my laundry, I flooded the bathroom because I didn’t put the drain tube in the toilet.

One of my housemates is an actor, the other a journalist. Nice guys, although neither of them speak English.

As I sat at the cluttered table in the living room listening to guttural Turkish banter between the people I just met and would now be living with, I wondered if it was illogical for me to be drawn to this place. Will I survive two months of this? I started to think of all the alternate options. Maybe I will just stay for one month, then travel around Turkey. Maybe I will find another place to live. My mind skipped through possibilities like a flat stone thrown from the beach.

I seem to be constantly surprising myself with the choices I make. When I left home months ago I was looking forward to traveling with no plans, seeing what experiences I ran into. But, when I got to Turkey I started to feel constricted by the unplanned nature of my life. I spent more time waiting for some sort of inspiration to come to me, rather than going out and doing something – anything. And then I realized I want plans. I want something to do every day that makes me fulfilled and happy. I don’t want to wander aimlessly through this gigantic cultural hub of a city. And I want to learn the language.

If I have learned anything in the unschooling environment, it is that I have the ability to do what I love, what makes me happy. And I have the right to shift what I’m doing whenever it starts to feel constraining. There is no need for me to keep up appearances or continue on a path that doesn’t suit me in order to prove anything. Because I don’t have anything to prove.

Continue reading notes from an unschooled world wanderer

I am too negative about homeschooling

I just got a really funny rejection letter.

An editor from a little homeschooling magazine had asked me for article pitches. The circulation was small. She wanted something basic and general. Something about what I’ve learned from homeschooling. Some challenges. Some triumphs. Something encouraging for parents who are doing this now.

I sent her a pitch. I proposed an article called “How homeschooling made me different.” It’d mostly be about how homeschooling taught me to be comfortable being myself. And it would also discuss some challenges, like how some of my relentless ambition stems from wanting to prove myself, as a homeschooler. I was not, for the record, looking forward to writing the article. But I try not to turn down homeschooling publications. I reminded myself that this is the stuff I write because it’s the right thing to do, not because it’s going to advance my career.

And then she sent me a rejection letter. The piece was not a good fit for her publication.

I was so surprised that I laughed aloud. Wait. What?

Here I was, pretty sure she would take whatever I proposed. Wondering if I should just say no, since the magazine wasn’t going to be able to help me out.

I wrote her back. I never do that. A rejection is a rejection. That’s the business. Believe me, I’ve gotten plenty of them. You don’t talk back. You move on.

I asked her what was going on.

And then she explained why she’d rejected me. I was too negative. Not encouraging enough. I was not happy enough about having been homeschooled. I was talking about challenges too much. I was not celebrating what the Lord had given me.

Suddenly the Lord was involved, and he sounded like he might be pissed at me.

Continue reading I am too negative about homeschooling

Ack! I don’t have a social template! I might be anything!

These days, I’ve been hanging out with some seriously cool girls. Girls who have clearly always been really pretty. Girls who have probably always had a lot of friends. Girls who may or may not have been mean. OK, a few of them have admitted it: they were mean girls. And then a few of them have that classic dork —> cool girl story, and they’re sticking to it.

I did not grow up around a lot of girls my own age. I grew up around plenty of people. I feel like I always need a disclaimer. Like, “I WAS SOCIAL, DON’T WORRY.” I was social, don’t worry. I mean, I liked people, I was fine around them. Sometimes I liked them less or wanted to be by myself more and so I did that, but in general, being around people was fine. It was fun. They were not all same-aged girls. None of them were particularly mean. It wasn’t at all clear who was the prettiest, or who was trend-setting. We all looked different in some ways and similar in others. We all liked different kinds of clothes, but sometimes we wore similar ones.

I don’t have a conveniently simple narrative about my social past. Sometimes I can’t remember who I was. And then it makes me a little uncertain about who I’m supposed to be now.

My history doesn’t have a template. It’s all over the place. Is “crazy weird homeschooler” a template yet? Yeah, maybe.

Continue reading Ack! I don’t have a social template! I might be anything!

people are confused about happiness

My cousin just sent me this article, and it was so beautiful I had to share it here. Emily Rapp writes about her relationship with her terminally ill son. She asks and answers the question “When your child doesn’t have a future, how do you parent?”

OK, I don’t want to be totally morbid, but the article reminded me of unschooling. And I realize that I shouldn’t even be writing about this, because it’s way too easy to be like, “Oh, so, unschooling is like parenting a kid who’s going to die? Because you don’t care about your kid’s future at all?”

No. Not like that. But I thought of those kids in the Race To Nowhere documentary, who were saying stuff like, “I know I’m supposed to be good at all of this, but I don’t know why…I know I have to get into a good college and then get a good job. But I don’t think it really matters if I’m happy.”

Parents are always saying, “The only thing I want is for my child to be happy.” And that might be true. I don’t know– I’m not a parent. I’ll probably look back at this when I’m a parent and think, “You did not know anything about anything.” But it seems to me that even if parents only want their kids to be happy, they are often talking about future happiness. As in, their kid will be happy because of all of the hard work that led to the success that led to the happiness.

Continue reading people are confused about happiness

People want to read about homeschooling

Do you guys know Penelope Trunk? She’s really famous. And I’m guest posting on her blog. About homeschooling. Check it out! I don’t mean to write so much about homeschooling, but people are really interested in it.

They’re interested in it enough to leave hundred of comments under my recent piece about how awful I am. I haven’t read any of them, but people keep writing to me to talk about how angry the comments make them. Or how sad. And a lot of these people are homeschooling or unschooling parents. Sometimes, when I get a piece about homeschooling published, it feels like everyone is out to get homeschoolers. Which is weird, because I never ever feel that way otherwise.

“Don’t read the comments!” I begged my parents. But they did anyway. I’m glad they’re tough people.

Anyway, everyone wants to read about homeschooling, even if it makes them furious. Even if  they hate me.

Maybe that’s OK. At least they’re reading? At least they’re reading.


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