The Year of Learning Dangerously by Quinn Cummings is the story of the first year that Quinn Cummings, former child star, homeschooled her daughter. Well, that’s how it bills itself, anyway.
I often found myself confused as to whether this was a nonfiction book about her experiences or a novel about a mother homeschooling her child – or at least a fictionalized account of her experiences. There were many times when it felt more like I was reading a novel than a book about homeschooling.
There were also numerous points where I felt confused by Cummings and her thoughts. One example would be when she says, “It’s hard to hold a full-time job besides parenting if you’re never actually not parenting.” I’m still puzzling over this sentence. Single parents hold full-time jobs all the time, and still parent their children. Cummings herself, from what I could tell when reading the book, is currently a stay at home parent. So I don’t understand what she meant here. Maybe she doesn’t feel capable of holding down a job and homeschooling at once? But homeschooling and parenting are not necessarily one and the same. You can be a parent without homeschooling, but you can’t really homeschool without being a parent. So…here I am, with my confusion over this particular statement.
I also found myself particularly annoyed when I reached a point where she was discussing going over her daughter’s work. She kept referring to it as homework. Homework is something you do at home, after you’ve been at public or private school all day. Unless of course you consider that all homeschooling work is homework since it’s done at home – but then, what if you go to the park? Or the library? Would it then be parkwork or librarywork? When I read the part about homework, it felt more like someone who had no experience with homeschooling and was trying to pretend they did.
There were times when she was repetitive. There was a point when she was writing about the Gothardites where she wrote something on one page, then two pages later, wrote the same thing but with slightly different wording. Reading the same things written in slightly different ways made me feel like the book was longer than it really was – or needed to be.
I think what might have bothered me the most, however, was her apparent willingness to lie and deceive in order to get what she wanted – whether it be to join a homeschool group or to gain access to the materials a particular group uses. To be fair, she did finally realize that she might find the materials on eBay (and she did find them there), but the fact was that she was willing to tell the group that her child’s father had died, in order to try to get access. I’m all for thinking outside the box and being willing to do whatever it takes to get your child a good education, but this was unnecessary and ridiculous. There was no reason to lie – her only reason for seeing this material was pure curiosity. She never had any intention of using it or joining the religious group that does use it – she just wanted to see it.
Then there was the fact that throughout that whole section on the Gothardites (this would be the same section in which she was willing to lie to get their materials), she sounded pretty judgmental, only to finish off with “As long as they aren’t hurting their children, how other people raise them is none of my business.” The entire section seemed pretty determined to convince the reader that the group is hurting their children (not physically, but mentally and in terms of stunting their mental and emotional growth, possibly), so to finish off with that sentence seemed a lot like the nosy neighbor who tells you all about the stuff the woman across the street has been up to, but then adds, “But that’s none of my business.” Saying that it’s not your business and that you don’t care means nothing if everything you said before that was judgmental and not exactly nice.
She spends a lot of time waffling back and forth. Even at the end of the book, when wrapping things up, it felt like she was still wavering. While I understand and agree that, as parents, we don’t know how things will turn out and things can change in a moment, Cummings’s seeming continued confusion over whether or not to homeschool, whether she would continue to homeschool, and how she would do it, got on my nerves. None of us know how this will turn out, but most parents commit to homeschooling with a full heart – we give it our all, right up until we are either done because our kids have graduated or done because we’ve realized it’s not working for our kids. We don’t hem and haw and panic constantly.
With all that said, however, I will say that she did make some points that I did agree with. One point was, when writing about how the Gothardites keep their children incredibly sheltered, that “In order to feel passionately about something, it helps if you’re allowed to question it from time to time.”
Another, and perhaps the one statement out of the entire book that I found to be most profound and fitting to anyone who is homeschooling, is “Faced with a very foggy road ahead of us, we are probably best served by understanding there is just so much we can predict, and so much we can’t. We need to acknowledge that we’re all trying our best–homeschoolers and brick-and-mortar schoolers alike. After that, we need to embrace the uncertainty and just hope everything turns out better than bad.” This was the one I could agree with the most. We need to stop trying to prove that one is better than the other, and accept that all methods of schooling may be equally valid, even if all methods of schooling may not equally suit our own children.
There were parts of the book that I found somewhat humorous, and other parts that I felt were intended to be humorous but fell flat. I admit to skipping a chunk of it that was a bunch of historical stuff that was apparently supposed to be related to homeschooling. It got boring very quickly and, honestly, seemed to have no bearing at all on homeschooling – at least, not modern homeschooling. I think the history lesson could have been skipped, as there are better, more widely respected books already written about the history of homeschooling.
Overall, while there was much that annoyed, confused or frustrated me about this book, I do think that it could be a good book. What I expected was a humorous look at one woman’s first year attempting to homeschool her daughter, an account that would help all of us realize that it’s normal to feel overwhelmed, conflicted, confused and scared. While I did sort of see that, I also don’t think that it quite met my expectations.
Would I recommend this book to others? Yes and no. I don’t think I would recommend it to someone who is only considering homeschooling, or who has just started. I think in those instances, this book could deter them or confuse them more than they already are. But for someone who’s already been at it for a while, someone who is confident in their choice and not likely to be swayed, it might not be bad. It provides a few lighthearted laughs about getting started and finding your feet.
If you want to check it out, my best recommendation would be to check it out from your local library, rather than spend the money on it.