Book Review: The Year of Learning Dangerously by Quinn Cummings

For nearly thirty-five years I have never known how to pronounce the word chic. I knew what it meant, of course – stylish, trendy, cutting-edge – I just thought it was pronounced “chick.” And whenever I heard someone referring to something as chic in the fashion sense, I assumed the word they were using was spelled “sheik,” which of course conjured up images of this ….

… and would make me giggle.

As funny as this is, there are serious implications to consider. The biggest one being how many times have I actually said chic (pronouncing it “chick”) in a fashion-related instance. In public. To people who are only acquaintances, aren’t my friends and who only smiled and changed the subject to avoid the awkwardness of having to correct this silly little girl who didn’t know how to pronounce a basic fashion term.

But it also makes me wonder about what else I’m getting wrong, especially now that my children are school-aged and my husband and I are on the brink of starting to home school, a decision that is raising the stakes not just for us but for our kids and their futures.

Of all of the things I learned in my years of schooling, I have forgotten most of it, and there are many things I simply don’t know. And of course, all of what I don’t know carries more weight than being able to properly distinguish a stylish new fashion line from an Islamic religious leader (ok, all you smartypants, I know the photo I pasted above is one of professional wrestler the Iron Sheik and not an actual sheik, but I thought that added to the confusion and therefore the hilarity, no?)

In fact, my improper use of a word I generally only use when squealing about a new scarf in a window display is really only the tip of the iceberg when dissecting the many reasons I shouldn’t home school my children.

But all of those reasons pale in comparison to the multitude of motivations I have for choosing to educate my children at home, many of which are echoed by author Quinn Cummings in her book The Year of Learning Dangerously.

Cummings is a popular blogger and author who, after noticing her daughter was lagging behind in certain subjects in public school, decided to takethe plunge and instruct her at home. She chronicled their first year in a hilarious, surprisingly touching and always relatable mini-memoir, detailing their exploration of the many types of homeschooling techniques and sharing her propensity to wear pajama pants the better part of most days.

Although I enjoyed her humor and found myself chortling throughout most of the book, I was also surprised by her poignant candor. I think the heart of Cummings’ book is her take on what can be the most divisive issue when discussing homeschooling: socialization. She explains that there are some things that you can’t read about or outline in a lesson plan, things like kindness and character, life lessons that many deem far more important than the task of memorizing the periodic table of elements. Qualities such as these are best learned through demonstration, and Cummings deftly reminds us that teenagers are not always best equipped to set life examples for other teenagers.

Additionally, she dissects many sects of homeschooling, and it’s probably worth noting that along the way, in true Quinn Cummings style, she pokes fun at all groups, from the radical unschooling crowd, to the more religious-focused groups and those of us who fall somewhere in the middle – people like me who are just trying to figure out where they fit on the homeschooling spectrum.

But most of all, she makes fun of herself, which is perhaps what is most appealing about her book. She reminds the reader that even though there are different approaches, homeschooling families are bound by a common thread: It’s about more than just “doing school” at home. It’s about education; it’s about educating. It’s about choice.

And I kind of like that I get to choose to wear chic yoga pants well past noon.

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