A new novel by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of "March" reinterprets the life of King David as he journeys from humble origins to become the slayer of Goliath and the ruler of a kingdom.
In the early 1990s, courts declared homeschooling legal in all fifty states. In the years that followed, homeschooling was mostly the province of conservative Christians. But today, bankrupt state budgets and mandated testing requirements have led some parents to seek alternatives to traditional schools. More than two million students in the U.S. are now homeschooled and a growing number of these do not cite religious reasons. Diane talks to author and former child actor Quinn Cummings about her new memoir on the challenges of educating her daughter at home.
- Quinn Cummings inventor, author, television and film actor; author of "Notes From The Underwire."
Read An Excerpt
Reprinted from “The Year of Learning Dangerously” by Quinn Cummings by arrangement with Perigee, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., Copyright (c) 2012 by Quinn Cummings.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. More than two million children are educated at home in the U.S. and the number is growing every year. Author and blogger Quinn Cummings counts herself among the growing ranks of homeschooling parents, many of whom are not making this choice for religious reasons.
MS. DIANE REHMIn a new memoir titled "The Year of Learning Dangerously," the former child actor chronicles her adventures in homeschooling. Quinn Cummings joins me in the studio. You are welcome to be part of the conversation. Call us on 800-433-8850. Send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning to you, Quinn, and welcome.
MS. QUINN CUMMINGSThank you so much for having me. I'm such a big fan of the show.
REHMWell, it's my pleasure. You sure had a lot of courage to take on homeschooling. What made you take that leap?
CUMMINGSCourage can also be pronounced foolishness, it should be noted. We were different than a lot of home school families in that, first of all, religion was not what brought us home. Also, catastrophe was not what brought us home. I know families who home school because their children were having a terrible experience in school for one reason or another.
CUMMINGSOur daughter Alice was very happy. She was perfectly fine. That was part of the problem. My daughter managed to convince two years' worth of teachers in a row that she did not understand long division with remainders when, in fact, she merely didn't like long division.
REHMShe hated math?
CUMMINGSShe hated math. She specifically hated long division with remainders and somewhere in her brain, she decided, ghastly as this is, there can't be anything better coming after it so best to just deal with the devil I know.
CUMMINGSAnd my daughter is, well, me. We're academically wired to be kind of a coasting people, kind of a do-the-bare-minimum kind of a people. And there are certain tragedies of parenthood, the minor ones. One of them is when you realize you gave birth to yourself and you're going to have to deal with the unfinished business of your own personality.
REHMSo what you're telling us is that you hated math. You loved reading. Your daughter adored to read, would read anything and everything, but hated math.
CUMMINGSHated math, saw no point to it and didn't understand why she had to work at something. Words come easily to us, numbers don't. But the world is not filled with things that come easily to us. Unfortunately, one of the other things that comes easily to my daughter is looking miserable and having her eyes well with tears. So for two years in a row, her teachers thought, oh, that poor darling...
CUMMINGS...that poor darling, tiny child. We should just go over this for a couple more weeks. I'm sure she'll get it. And the teachers, who are passionate, engaged individuals have 15-22 other kids in the class, they don't have time to think about the one who is creating no problems and my daughter was creating no problems, she was just struggling with long division.
CUMMINGSOf course, when we were home, if I held up a Barbie and said do a page and you get her, she could finish in under three minutes.
CUMMINGSSo I realized she needed to learn how to learn, which I think ultimately is the most important thing you take away from elementary school...
CUMMINGS...is the newest -- is the relationship you're going to have with learning new things for the rest of your life.
REHMDo you know I was fascinated recently considering yours and your daughter's resistance to learning math to read a page entitled, "Why Do We Need Algebra?" You know, it does raise questions about how we're going to use anything beyond basic math and whether we really do need it. And perhaps deep down, you and your daughter simply decided in prehistoric time that you weren't going to need it.
CUMMINGSI think that's a nice way to phrase it. I think if my daughter and I and people like us get to arrange our worlds, we will never see a number again. But the last time I checked, I didn't get to shape the world to my liking nor does my daughter. And it should also be noted that I know families where it goes the other way, where the children are fine with math and have a problem with reading.
CUMMINGSAnd that one starts to feed on itself which is, I'm not comfortable with reading so I'm not going to do it and get better at it or there are wiring issues that have to be overcome. There might be a certain degree of dyslexia. I know parents who have decided to home school because they feel as if, if their children are diagnosed as being dyslexic and handled in a certain way, that perhaps they will never get the chance to overcome it, that this will be the way that they define themselves forever.
REHMYou know, I'm interested that you hate math, that your daughter hates math because as I read about you and realized that you had designed the Hip Hugger sling for babies, I thought to myself, well, I wonder if you didn't have to have some interest in measurement and proportion and angle in order to design that sling so it worked.
CUMMINGSYou are deeply aware of my life and I respect that about you. The Hip Hugger is a marvel of geometry. I can brag about it because I didn't create the geometric proportions.
CUMMINGSI knew what I wanted. I worked with a business partner, a woman by the name of Amy Turner, who had experience in design. And I said to her, it's going to do this, it's going to do that. There's going to be a bit under there. We created it together. I will say this. I was so aware of my antipathy for math that I was very careful with Alice early on in her school year.
CUMMINGSWe would do her math together and I would have my excited tone. Now is it possible she was picking up on the fact that mother is faking? Sure, or we are just wired. I think it's simpler than not even liking math or not liking math. I think it fell upon math with us. I think that we both need to learn how to work hard because there are a lot of things which are academic which aren't terribly hard for us.
CUMMINGSI'm not going to say I'm lazy. I'm going to say that I have a greater interest in things where I haven't had to struggle.
REHMAll the more amazing that you decided to take on the homeschooling of your daughter.
REHMBaffling totally. Quinn Cummings is an author, inventor, blogger and former child actor. Her new book is titled "The Year of Learning Dangerously." She was nominated for an Academy Award for her role in Neil Simon's "The Goodbye Girl" in 1977. She also starred in the television series "Family."
REHMIf you'd like to join us, call 800-433-8850. Send us your email to email@example.com. You were an only child?
REHMVery much like your own daughter, how much about the socializing aspect of homeschooling did you worry about?
CUMMINGSUm, my family will tell you that I worry about everything. I have often said that my patron saint is Eeyore. I am miserably certain all the time, whatever it is, won't end well. So did I worry about her interacting with other people? Oh, yes.
CUMMINGSThe socialization question is an interesting one. It comes up all the time. I wish to reassure people that socialization in the way that they're thinking about it is not the thing they should be worried about with homeschoolers. You can either take it on an anthropological level, which is human beings have been recognizably so for about 130,000 years.
CUMMINGSEducation in a way that we would recognize in a classroom with a bunch of other students is about 400 years old. Mandatory education is less than 150 years old in the United States. It's an interesting idea, but relative to how long we've existed, it's still beta-testing.
CUMMINGSThe way we used to learn how to be human beings was we would be in groups of vaguely related individuals who would have a vested interest in teaching us how to be what we think of as, whatever that group thought of as human. If for no other reason than we'll learn, turn around and start preparing food and going out and doing what needs to do in order to keep the group going.
CUMMINGSThe idea of learning how to be human vertically is the way it's usually been, which is you look above you. You look to your elders to figure out what matters, how to behave, the rules of the road.
CUMMINGSLearning how to be a human horizontally, which is to say being surrounded by 22 or 26 or 31 peers is a very relative -- it's a very new invention. I'm not saying it doesn't work. I'm just saying that the model that homeschoolers use, in some ways, is a lot more in alignment with the way our brains used to develop and still develop. We are still far more, running around the African veldt than we are running around Madison Avenue.
CUMMINGSAnd as far as science goes, every study which has gone to the trouble of looking at homeschoolers and comparing them to the population has come back and said, these kids are, for the most part, fine. They, as adults, they define -- they're more likely to define themselves as very happy than the average population, fun fact, the more likely to vote.
CUMMINGSThe children are engaged. The children are social.
REHMQuinn Cummings, her new book, a memoir is titled "The Year of Learning Dangerously: Adventures in Homeschooling." Short break here, we'll be right back.
REHMThe memoir we're talking about in this hour is titled "The Year of Learning Dangerously: Adventures in Homeschooling." Quinn Cumming is here in the studio with me. She's the author of the book and the mother of a child she has now been homeschooling for some four years.
CUMMINGSWe are starting our fourth year, yes.
REHMQuinn, would you read for us from the first page of the book?
CUMMINGSThank you. (Reading) "I was hiding in the laundry room, fighting off a full-blown panic attack. If long division with remainders hadn't been invented, this would not have been happening. Actually, panic attack isn't the correct diagnosis. A panic attack is typically a response to an imaginary threat, but there was nothing imaginary at work here. I had a rock solid reason to be slumped on the linoleum, wheezing into a paper bag.
CUMMINGSI had been homeschooling my daughter for two whole days and found myself suddenly and brutally aware of how completely unqualified I was for this assignment. Here was my child, my one shot at creating a decent, kind, productive member of society and I was treating her like a gold fish I'd won at a carnival. I was entirely incompetent to educate my own offspring. Sitting there in my miserable hyperventilating state, I remember that I'd spent weeks and weeks trying to teach Alice how to tie her shoes.
CUMMINGSThen one afternoon at a play date, a four-year-old friend taught her how to do it perfectly. I was less qualified to educate my child than someone who had to be reminded not to lick the class guinea pig. Perhaps I should find a preschooler to replace me for the next eight years. Someone to educate my daughter while I live quietly here in the laundry room, folding underwear and otherwise not doing my child harm. I breathe slowly and carefully into my paper bag and try to remember why I was doing this."
REHMSo, how did you get beyond that feeling of I'm totally incompetent, I can't do this. I'm determined to do this, but I don't really believe in myself?
CUMMINGSI still have that feeling on average of once every five days, for about 20 minutes I realize how brutally outclassed I am by the project that her father and I have taken on. And it is important to mention, her father, Daniel, all the time because there are subjects I don't cover anymore and he does. I am not allowed to touch math, obviously. She has now moved beyond me in science.
CUMMINGSI love science, but they covered some elements of chemistry this year and I was convinced that they were making up some of the words. I thought, no, those aren't -- really? Oh, wow. I still have great moments of self-doubt. I am not certain that we are doing absolutely the right perfect thing for our daughter. I have to take it on faith that she appears to be moving forward. She has friends. She's learning things I no longer understand, that I'm doing the right thing.
CUMMINGSBut the fact remains, that's the same leap of faith the family down the street from me has when they take their child to the local elementary school, that her friend has who is going to a Catholic school, that people I know have when they write the $40,000-a-year to the lovely and very prestigious private school. We are -- the way I describe it, you know, I was watching the Olympics and I thought, oh, that's it. That's what it's like to educate your child, to home school, is like being the director of the Olympics.
CUMMINGSYou're looking at a screen full of feeds. You're seeing what each camera is giving you, up to 40 cameras at a time. And at any given moment, you have to make a cut. You have to say, all right, the story is here, now the story is here. Oh, that cut didn't work, let's move it over to here. You're telling the story as best you can. Was there a better way to tell the story? Sure. But you have to cut on the move and you do not have the luxury of sitting there thinking, well, I would kind of maybe like to see it play out this way.
CUMMINGSIt's all in real time. We make our choices for our children based on the information that we have.
REHMTell me about that first day or just prior to it when you told Alice that you were going to school her at home and she was no longer going to go off to the local school.
CUMMINGSMm-hmm. I did it in a series of steps. My family does not respond well to surprise. So, it worked out well for me in that she had been going to a French immersion school the previous year. That was -- my thought was, okay, that will give her something to do that will help engage...
CUMMINGSChallenge her. Unfortunately, there were a couple boys in the class who were extremely distracting and it was, in fact, the first and last time until now that I know of that my daughter has been punched. I do not call this bullying, I call it bad behavior. Bullying would imply that my daughter was negatively affected by this. Her response was, he couldn't punch, I punched him back harder. So I would not say my daughter was bullied.
CUMMINGSBut when you have come home and you're complaining about your arm hurts because someone has punched you, however weekly it may have been there's a certain room for opportunity for saying, well, what would you think about not going back to this school next year? Fine. Okay. Well, I was thinking maybe we'd do this, we'd do that. And then the minute I said you could wake up whatever time you wanted, she was sold.
CUMMINGSMy baby, she is not a morning person.
REHMNot a morning person, and therefore the idea getting up when she felt like it literally, is that what you're saying?
CUMMINGSThat's pretty much it. Realize, we were talking about somebody who was at the time eight years old.
CUMMINGSYou know, as soon as -- although candidly, I think if I told her father that he could have a job where he could wake up whatever time he wanted, that would probably work for him as well. So maybe it's not an eight-year-old thing.
REHMSo, what time did she wake up and what time did you get started early on?
CUMMINGSHer body clock, at that point, I feel as if she would stumble out of her bedroom squinting and, you know, picking out house cats right around 8:00, 8:15. She'd eat some breakfast. And I think by 9:00, 9:00 felt to me like a sane hour. Like, look, we're not too weird. We're doing things and it's nine o'clock in the morning. I haven't descended into anarchy yet.
REHMSo, how did you begin?
CUMMINGSOh, the first day was a marvel. The first day we did -- we had pages we did. We read some history and then we answered some questions. I think we did a little history project because I like history, so we began with my strength. And then I think we did some geography, and that was illuminating for both of us because I went to school in the '70s where they were more concerned about my self-esteem than state capitals.
CUMMINGSSo, that -- we both learned a great deal about Fargo, ND. And she -- even the first day she did some math. We did just a little bit of long division with remainders. She grumbled a bit. And she did and I thought, this is why I brought her home. This is why it makes sense. And the second day was when I said, okay, no long division. Let's just cover fractions, which I know you did at the end of last year.
CUMMINGSAnd she looked at them, and then she said I have to go to the bathroom. Okay. And then she didn't come back. And I found her in the bedroom reading with the cat on her lap. And I said, honey, we're doing math. And she said, well, I don't understand it. And I said, no, you do understand it. You got a 95 on the quiz, which was exactly this material only three months ago.
CUMMINGSNo, I don't. Could we possibly go over this very, very slowly? And her eyes filled with tears. And that was the point at which I realized, oh, she's going to pull the same stunt on me she did with her teachers.
REHMWith her teachers.
CUMMINGSAnd it had never occurred to me to realize I was going to need a tool for that. Somehow I thought that that was related to the school. I forgot that we take our personality with us wherever we go.
REHMSo, considering the fact that her eyes filled with tears, that she would much rather do something in the written field, what did you do then?
CUMMINGSWell, first of all, I breathed into a paper bag in the laundry room for a while.
CUMMINGSAnd then finally I guess the hypoxia have settled down and enough oxygen got to my brain and I thought, I can't cave on this. I can't. And I thought, okay, fractions, fractions, how are we going to do -- fractions are measurements. Measurements are baking. Baking. We are going to -- and I went in and got her in. I said, we are going on a field trip. Really? Oh, yeah, we're going to go to the grocery store and we're going to get baking -- we're going to bake.
CUMMINGSI bake under duress. It's just everything is sticky on my hands and then I eat too much and, no, no baking. And I was offering to bake. And she said, really? And I said, yep, I'll even let you do all the measuring. And you know what? There were a lot of cookies in my house for about a month. My baby, she learned her fractions.
REHMShe learned her fractions through measuring cups, measuring spoons, making that this portion went here and that portion went there.
CUMMINGSAnd most parents who bake will tell you, oh, yeah, they know that just as most parents would tell you that a kid can't count to 100 until you hand them their allowance and then all of a sudden, they can tell you exactly how much you didn't give them.
REHMTell me about the program you put together for her because part of it was structured, part of it -- like the baking -- unstructured.
CUMMINGSIt -- well, the whole year was me careening wildly from one format to another. Each would be the compensation from the previous, you know, we use some homeschooling method and I thought, oh, no, that doesn't work. We should go completely to the other side. But what I found eventually that worked for us for that year was the things she loved doing, I could pretty much let her run with it.
CUMMINGSWe had the great good fortune to have a friend who was the buyer for a local bookstore for the children's department. She would let my daughter bring in book reviews. And then she eventually let my daughter read advanced reader copies. And then my daughter would come in and talk to her and give her reviews and critical analysis, if one can be, you know, she was just nine. Let's not overplay this.
CUMMINGSBut she would have to look at the material and the woman would say, what do you think? You know, what works? What doesn't? And that, with a fair amount of writing, I felt as if was covering her. For me, it was reading is writing. And if you can write and if you can come up with three coaching paragraphs, I'm not going to begrudge you much. And on history, let's read history together. We read a lot of history together.
CUMMINGSI thought Ken Burns' civil war documentary is going to be a wonderful idea. I had forgotten about the amount of shots, of stacked dead bodies. That ended quickly. But I love history, so I kept -- we would go out for hikes. We would talk about history on hikes. But on the things she wasn't particularly enamored of, we needed structure, otherwise it was never going to happen.
REHMSo, structure on science, structure on math.
REHMStructure on geography.
REHMAnd did she resist any of those areas where structure had to be imposed?
CUMMINGSWe certainly moved in a much slower pace...
CUMMINGS...than we did with English.
CUMMINGSI have -- we have a great many friends of the family who are teachers and I have always said to them, there is -- no one will ever respect a teacher more than someone who has just started homeschooling. There are days where it's like pushing a pudding uphill. I am in awe of men and women who do this with multiple children. I -- teachers are wonderful people.
REHMQuinn Cummings, her new memoir is titled, "The Year of Learning Dangerously" and the question of who was doing the learning is the interesting one. Let's open the phones. We've got lots of callers waiting. To northwest Florida. Good morning, Barbara.
BARBARAGood morning. I'm so excited. This is the first time I've ever been able to get through.
REHMWell, I'm so glad you're with us. Go right ahead.
BARBARAJust wanted to share, I have two sons that I homeschooled from the get-go. The ongoing joke was while, people would ask, when did you start. I would say, in utero. And, Quinn, you are so right on with so many of your comments. It is a labor of love. We just took it a year at a time.
REHMBarbara, why did you decide to home school your kids?
BARBARAWe live in a very rural area, even now after all these years. And the school system, the local school, the boys would have been on the bus for roughly two-plus hours a day going and coming.
CUMMINGSI hear that one a lot.
CUMMINGSAmerica is a big place and there are regions where the kids would leave in the dark and come home in the dark.
BARBARACorrect. And being young, I just could not see that. And also, the schools that they would attend, the elementary, the instructors had two grades per instructor. And there were some problems, a few of the second graders were caught chewing tobacco in school.
BARBARASo, I said no, you know. And we just took it a year at a time and it was a labor of love. And there were days that were just horrible and days that were wonderful. And I had to be very creative and we utilized a lot of things in the 4-H community, including 1, which was a wonderful great program. We utilized some of the after-school programs, like for gymnastics and the local junior college, the kids' college during the summer, as well as some of the adult classes.
BARBARAEven when the boys were fairly young, I would attend with them for, like, Spanish and art classes. And you just have to be very flexible, but it allowed a lot of flexibility. And it allowed me to care for my father with Alzheimer's. He passed in '99 and my elder mom. My dad was 50 when I was born. I was a surprise. And so that was blessing. And the boys were able to learn so much.
REHMHuh. That's very interesting.
CUMMINGSWell, first of all, thank you, Diane, for calling in. And I'm glad I was your first time you were able to get in. What she is -- what Diane was talking about I've heard from multiple families, including the ability to take care of elderly relatives. A friend of mine's two children were with her. She moved back to her family's home across the country for the last four months of her father's life.
CUMMINGSAnd she said that she feels as if helping her father, watching him die, as hard as it was on her kids and it saddened them terribly, they love their grandfather. But she said, we are the -- she's a doctor and she said we are the first century where our children did not know what the end of life was like and maybe this is fine on them and maybe it isn't. But my children have now had an experience that most of the rest of the world has, which is the idea that we care for our elderly.
REHMWhich is becoming increasingly frequent.
REHMI think. And, Barbara, thank you for calling and congratulations with your effort. I think there are an awful lot of other people waiting to share their own experiences, but always comes this question of socializing. And we'll get back to that when we come back from a short break. Quinn Cummings is my guest. Her new book, "The Year of Learning Dangerously: Adventures in Homeschooling." Short break. Right back.
REHMAnd we're back with Quinn Cummings. Her new book about learning to home school her child is titled, "The Year of Learning Dangerously." Going to go right back to the phones to St. Clair Shores, Mich. Good morning Patricia.
PATRICIAGood morning, Diane. I have a few comments. Number one, I think commenting about subject matter as algebra or reading is not really focusing on the fact that we, in public schools, are committed to developing different kids on all levels. And we are talking about turning on brain -- areas of the brain in all of these different disciplines or subjects. And that has continued to be repeated and that is the big focus of education, not just teaching subjects, but giving the child an education by turning on areas of the brain.
PATRICIAThe second thing I have is also that children in schools, as opposed to kids in home school do not have the -- or they have the opportunity of peers asking questions that that student that is homeschooled will not have the advantage of listening to questions that may be asked by other students that that student may not want to ask or may not think of to ask. And they also get different outlooks to consider from the teachers. Teachers also will re-enforce sometimes what the parent values are so that the kids in the public schools get more of a variety of outlooks and the opportunity to learn.
PATRICIAThe other thing I want to mention is that very often we have kids that are transitioning from home school into high school for the social aspects. And we find it very difficult because many of these students transitioning in as high school students lack the structure. They have expectations of direct one on one teacher to student attention. And that is not possible because that has been re-enforced in an environment where they have had direct one on one schooling by their parents in the home.
CUMMINGSOkay, terrific. First of all, Patricia, thank you for calling and really terrific questions. I'm going to try to do this in order to the best of my ability because I am a person who wrote a book, but that doesn't make me an expert. First of all, all the above, sure, yes, there are advantages and disadvantages to every form of education. I would be heartsick if I thought that somebody at the end of the book thought I was telling them they must go home and that everyone must go home.
CUMMINGSI am talking about my experience for right now. I am always writing what we do educationally with our daughter in pencil because it works now. Brains change, kids change. A couple of thoughts here, you were talking about turning on different areas of the brain and the ability to ask questions, to hear other students asking questions. Absolutely, the only thing I can say is that these are -- these options are actually available online. There are online classes where students can hear and work with one another.
REHMDid you use any of those?
CUMMINGSYes, my daughter is now in classes. As in, I shake her awake and she stumbles out and sits in front of the computer and she can hear and see the other, however many kids there are in the class. And she is taking certain classes that way. If you are absolutely locked into we are homeschooling around the dining room table, you're not getting that. That option is out there right now. A friend of mine describes education now as being able to eat in different ways. Some nights you eat at home, some nights you eat in a restaurant, some days you grab something on the fly because you're starving. It's all food.
CUMMINGSAs far as the socializing goes and transitioning them back into high school after homeschooling, a couple of thoughts. You probably, I'm guessing, have had students in your high school who came from maybe a school in another country. And the first few months might have been confusing as they figured out how the rules of the road were. The adolescent brain is remarkably plastic and adaptable. The kids figure out what the new rules are. If a homeschooler comes in and is truly having a terrible time, I feel sorry for the academics around them because I understand it's disruptive.
CUMMINGSI would politely suggest that a lot of what we think of as personality is more nature than nurture. And this is somebody who might have had a difficult time with social interactions from the get go. That might have been part of what brought the parents to home school them to begin with was that maybe this person has difficulty with social cues or transitions or needs more personal interfacing -- oh, God, I just used the word interfacing. I'm so sorry. But needed more of that to begin with, that they were wired for that.
REHMPatricia, do you want to respond?
PATRICIAYes, actually the students that I had transitioning into the high school were not from different countries. The problem, again, is that when you can talk about well, you know, I shake my daughter awake at nine o'clock. That's not really an option. And when we look at social expectations we don't have those expectations for people in the workforce. You go to work, you know, on time and you work for a specific period of time. In schools we are charged with trying to make good citizens of students as well as educating them in math and reading and science.
CUMMINGSAbsolutely. I'm sorry, maybe I didn't make myself clear. I was using the overseas student as the analogy. That it was somebody coming in from a very different environment. Again, I would be heartsick if I thought that this was taken as a condemnation of bricks and mortar schools or, more specifically, public schools. I think public school teachers and public school administrators are doing extraordinary work.
CUMMINGSWith each year, you are given less from the state to do the same amount of work. The standardized tests are being held over everybody's heads. I am in awe of what people do. My daughter may be back in public school at some point if it makes sense for our family.
REHMAll right, thanks for calling, Patricia. To Dallas, Texas and to Nicholas, you're on the air.
NICHOLASHello, Diane. I love your show. Thanks for taking my call.
REHMThank you, surely.
NICHOLASI just wanted to say thank you to the author for her praise of public school teachers. As a teacher myself and as the son of a teacher in public schools I find that especially over the last few years as, you know, the media focuses so much on, you know, teachers -- you know, teachers taking advantage of the system or, you know, teachers in trouble for this reason or low test scores and yadda, yadda, yadda.
NICHOLASAnd, you know, I was so glad to hear your comment about administrators and standardized testing and all of the things that we have to put up with as teachers. You know, I'm really thankful for that. So I just wanted to make that comment and say thank you.
CUMMINGSNicholas, you are welcome. I think of public school teachers as playing musical chairs. And every year you have one less chair and the music gets a little more frantic and you're supposed to keep playing. I have a lot of friends who are teachers. I hear the stories about what they are expected to do. I don't understand how they keep going. I'm in awe of teachers.
REHMSo much on their plates. Thanks for calling, Nicholas. To Edwardsville, Ill. and to Chris, good morning to you.
CHRISGood morning, Diane. I very much enjoy your show and I'm very glad that the subject came up because we're just starting to home school our son. And we wish that we could keep him in public school because he very much enjoys it and he is very disappointed that he can't go back. But he is what's been called a gifted dyslexic and this is a -- these are only one percent of the population are gifted dyslexic. So it's not very well recognized.
CHRISAnd our school has -- it's a very good school system and, you know, we have people moving in our town just because of the school system. But they have limited resources to accommodate gifted students and even -- and they don't have any resources to accommodate dyslexics. So kids with dyslexics there would really -- there would be no chance of him being able to go to public school. From what all we've heard and people have told us everybody with a gifted dyslexic is really we have to home school him because the public schools can't deal with these...
REHMChris, give me an idea of the definition as you've used the phrase of a gifted dyslexic.
CHRISThese are, you know, gifted students, they're exceptional students, they're -- well, my son he's been tested for his verbal comprehension. He's at a 98 percentile so this is -- he's been exceptional, but his written tests, you know, he's -- he appears to have a learning disability. And, in fact, the school system during our IEP meetings their solution to this problem was to be -- to put him in special education classes.
CHRISSo if you can imagine a gifted student, you know, being -- who seems to have learning disabilities and reading, you know, "The Hungry Caterpillar" and stuff like that, but it wouldn't work out. So gifted dyslexics are very intelligent students that are dyslexic -- it's pretty self explanatory. They're gifted and they are dyslexic. They're often described as svelte dyslexics because they are so intelligent.
CHRISThey can compensate for the first few grades for their dyslexia, but...
REHMOkay, so how is it going?
CHRISWell, right now we've just started. So I had to laugh at the analogy of pushing pudding up a hill. I think, you know, sometimes it's more like pushing pudding up a wall.
CHRISBut we just started for the first couple of days and we've been working with some of these online programs, like Lexia were good, but, you know, that we still have to do other things. And so one thing I wanted to mention is that, you know, parents and educators really have to look out for these students so that these don't get overlooked because these are often people that are, you know, the innovators of our culture. There's some discussion that Einstein was a dyslexic and if so, then he would certainly be classified as a gifted dyslexic.
CUMMINGSThere is a statistic that I actually didn't believe so I had it -- I went to several people who are in the educational sector and confirmed this. One third of American students are not graduating from high school, one out of three. And when you stop to consider that there are communities in the United States where there is an expectation that not only will you graduate from high school that you'll graduate from college. Where there's probably a 98 percent graduation rate from a county schools. That means that there are regions where one out of two not making it to graduation.
CUMMINGSIt's -- the quirky kids sometimes get lost. And I'm not saying that all of them are gifted. I'm not saying that all of them are gifted dyslexic. I am saying that it's easy to lose the ones that are a little off the bubble and nobody means to. And the teachers are looking out for them and everybody cares for them, but you got to get through the day. And maybe you lose one in that day.
REHMThanks for calling. And here's an email from Holly who says she was home schooled from the first through the 12th grade. Her mother wanted them home schooled because she was bullied. She was bullied in school. "Didn't want to expose us to that. Worked out very well for us. My brother and sister were also home schooled."
REHMShe says, "I didn't like feeling different as a teenager. But I was very involved in my own education, which helped me do very well in college. I didn't sit by and passively try to absorb information. One thing my mother really pushed was teaching us to find answers on our own and be more independent in our education. I enjoyed math. I'm now 22 years old starting my master's degree in mathematics. All in all, I'm glad I was home schooled," she says.
CUMMINGSI'm glad to hear that. I just -- I want anybody hearing this to understand that I don't think this the panacea. I wrote the book for two reasons. I wrote the book because people outside of homeschooling don't really think about it. And with it growing at a rate of between seven and 15 percent a year, depending on which study you follow, this is a large and growing population of future Americans. It behooves us to figure out what's going on with them.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Why do you think it's growing as such a rapid rate?
CUMMINGSI think for a long time the growth was coming from the fundamentalist community who was the community that embraced it first and really pushed it. They're the reason it's legal in the United States. I think -- this is my unscientific take on it, but I think that's pretty much topped out. That's not the most of the growth anymore because if you've been called home by the Bible you already have been called home by the Bible. And you know that community is, sort of, self sustaining now.
CUMMINGSOn a purely anecdotal level the ones that I am hearing from, the ones I'm reading about are the man with the gifted dyslexic son. Or there's somebody whose daughter is very involved with ice skating and she wants to ice skate four hours a day and her parents said, but you still need to get a good education because at some point, the ice skating's going to stop being enthralling and we want you to go to college. So we're doing this program.
REHMOr the bullied?
CUMMINGSOr the bullied and the bullied comes up a lot. The way I think of it is that we have a generation of parents now who I understand it's the helicopter parents, it's the overly involved parents. That's a separate topic. But these are parents who a generation before -- or I'll back up for a second. I have a little game I play. I ask people my age -- people younger if they have children. Are they more involved with their children's education that their parents were, less involved or about the same?
CUMMINGSVirtually 100 percent of the parents I know my age say, oh, I'm way more involved. If you get more involved, if something isn't working, you're not going to do what our parents might have done, which is, oh, ride it out. By the end of the year, you'll get a new teacher or, oh, just work harder or hit him back or whatever it is. You have parents now who say, no, I'm not prepared for it to be a C minus experience for you.
REHMAnd I will do something on my own to try to make this better for you.
CUMMINGSI will try to fix this.
REHMAnd you said your husband is very involved.
CUMMINGSYes, he is.
REHMThat's not always the case. We've heard via email from a number of single parents who also have jobs.
CUMMINGSI am in awe of single parents who home school. I do not understand how they sleep. No, I should say and always should say, we are an extraordinarily lucky family. We both work jobs where we are at home and can set our own hours.
CUMMINGSQuinn Cummings, her new book a memoir is titled, "The Year of Learning Dangerously: Adventures in Homeschooling." Congratulations. Thanks for being here.
CUMMINGSI've had a wonderful time. Thank you so much for having me.
REHMI'm glad. Thanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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