Review: The Year of Learning Dangerously by Quinn Cummings

cummingsThe Year of Learning Dangerously: Adventures in Homeschooling

Quinn Cummings

230 pages

Published in 2012 by Perigee Books, an imprint of Penguin

Source: Public Library

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.

So begins Quinn Cummings’ memoir, The Year of Learning Dangerously, documenting her first year homeschooling her daughter, Alice. Alice is like any other kid: she loves cats, playing outside, and reading. When it comes to math, there’s this huge struggle every year. At the end of the school year, Alice usually doesn’t advance much in the subject. Cummings sees herself in Alice and knows that if she doesn’t intervene, the situation won’t change. What comes next is a hilarious and honest account of Quinn’s quest to homeschool her daughter, explore various homeschooling approaches, and just figure out what she’s doing.

Homeschooling has been going on for decades in the United States and one of the biggest reasons parents take their children out of school is for religious or moral instruction. That’s not always the reason why we decide to take our kids out of school. With Cummings, we know that she just wants Alice to love learning and to become willing to tackle things even when they’re not easy for her.

What makes the author’s story different from other memoirs about the same subject is the humor. Cummings is hilarious and honest about her shortcomings and her search to make Alice’s first year memorable. Or at least not traumatic. While tackling homeschooling, Cummings also finds the time to examine several approaches to homeschooling such as the classical method and unschooling, attend a Christian homeschooling prom, and learn as much as she can about the history of homeschooling. None of this is new to any veteran homeschooling parent. But if you’re curious about the subject or new to homeschooling, this book is really helpful.

While reading The Year of Learning Dangerously, readers see how privileged Cummings is. In her search to learn more about other homeschooling groups like Fundamentalists and Gohardites, she’s flying all over the country. Unless these same groups are living in my community, there’s no way I’m going to find out about them. These sections of the book are interesting because I had no idea what some of the groups think or believe, but it takes the focus away from Alice and her adjustment (which went well) to homeschooling. Some people may be offended by these sections since Cummings pretty much lied her way through most of these conventions. I wasn’t offended at all.

I found The Year of Learning Dangerously to be one woman’s hilarious take on her year of homeschooling and all that she’s learned. My rating: 4 1/2 out of 5 stars.

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. 

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26 thoughts on “Review: The Year of Learning Dangerously by Quinn Cummings

  1. I’ve been wondering if this one was worth picking up. We’re very new to homeschooling and from your review, I think I’d love reading this! Thanks for a helpful review. :)

  2. This sounds like it would be a good even handed account for public school teachers to pick up. Too often we only see the the negative side, students returning to our classrooms from homes where parents were homeschooling for the wrong reasons and not keeping up with their child’s learning – I think this might remind a few that there are some great homeschooling families out there.

    1. That’s just the thing… this doesn’t show the good side of homeschooling! Just the opposite! I would hate for anyone to pick up this book and think this is how everyone does things. Ouch! Ms. Cummings does a thorough job of attacking just about everyone from unschoolers to Christians; all of us are under fire for being quite odd in our ways of thinking.
      While she might homeschool Alice, this is not a good book for homeschool advocacy.

      1. I think Cummings shows her own flaws along with what she thinks are the flaws of others. There were moments that I think all homeschooling families go through: debating whether or not to homeschool, trying to help a child in an area you struggle with like Cummings did with math, searching for a “tribe”, and just trying to do your best as a parent.

      2. I agree, Cummings does show her own flaws while recounting her adventures.
        I think I was just expecting for her to have an “ah-ha” moment or to at least meet some normal homeschooling families. Instead, her encounters left me shuddering with horror and concern that others might think all homeschoolers are so odd.

    2. Shannon, what I’m really interested in knowing is what do you think are the wrong reasons for homeschooling. I think one of the great things about homeschooling is that while we all focus on academics, it’s not THE focus like it can be at school. Here in Cali, homeschooling kids don’t have to take any end-of-the year tests or have that pressure on them.

  3. While this book had some funny moments, frankly I was very disappointed.

    I would NEVER recommend this book to a new homeschooling family. I’m afraid it might discourage a new mommy by adding someone else’s neurosis to her already full plate of nerves.

    Don’t waste your money; go borrow it from the library.

    1. I didn’t start reading this book with any expectations, so I want to know what were yours about it. I don’t think a new mom would be discouraged by this book especially with that fantastic few pages about socialization and homeschooling kids. Personally, I’m buying this book. Since you don’t recommend The Year of Learning Dangerously, what current homeschooling memoir would you recommend?

      1. I had seen the video circulating on YouTube before picking up the book. So, when Cummings said she is ‘the war correspondent on how to educate your child”, I expected her to know something about the field and that she was merely sharing her experiences in actually doing the educating.

        What I instead found were a mass of insecurities and indecisions. Again, while she was quite funny at times, I wondered if her adventures among the bizarre would turn people off to homeschooling or reaffirm the masses’ belief that we really are all crazy.

        I understand this is merely her story into the world of homeschooling and I take it as such. But if I had to recommend a book to new homeschooling families, this wouldn’t be it. There are too many other encouraging, uplifting, helpful reads for them to focus on.

        Surprisingly, there are very few memoirs about homeschooling or at least few that I have come across. Most homeschooling books I have read contain an introduction retelling how the family arrived at the decision to homeschool, but memoirs are few. Those which do exist tend to be exactly what most of us fear; horror stories about abuse and neglect. So, unfortunately I cannot recommend a good memoir. I wish I could though.

        Please understand, I think the book was well written and, again, very funny at times. I was just disappointed.

        Are there other memoirs that you would recommend? I would be interested in reading them, if you have suggestions.

      2. No wonder you were so disappointed with this book! I would have been too after listening to the author describe herself the way she did.

        You know what? I never wonder if this book would turn people off to homeschooling and now I see your point.

        I too wish that there were more memoirs about homeschooling. I’ve read several memoirs about homeschooling but many of them disappointed me in some way.

        Thank you for coming by and letting us know your thoughts on this book. I’ll be sure to check out your blog. You can never follow too many homeschooling blogs. :-)

  4. It’s been a long time since I was a homeschooling parent, but the issues and hot-button topics are still the same! It sounds like this book is intended to be funny to a general audience not a how-to on getting started with homeschooling, but one person’s idea of funny isn’t the same as the next person’s!

  5. This sounds perfect! I have been intrigued by people who homeschool their kids. One of my colleagues has 7 and he homeschools all 7. That is certainly incredible to my ears. I will be looking for this audio.

  6. Love your review! And I really enjoyed the book, too. I agree that some people could be offended, but I wasn’t one of them either. I totally wanted to make copies of her chapter on socialization and hand them out to all the well-meaning and not-so-well-meaning people who feel the need to bring this up with us. :)
    If you’re interested (but please don’t feel you need to be!), I reviewed it too: http://stillnothingofimportance.blogspot.com/2012/09/the-year-of-learning-dangerously.html

  7. Seems as though homeschooling has really picked up recently! It maybe I just see it more from those who I speak with online. Sounds like an interesting book–very curious about her lying through the conventions!

  8. I’m glad you found this fun. Interesting that she went out and explored communities that weren’t her own to get a broader picture.

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