Quinn Cummings Video Interview On ‘Adventures In Homeschooling’
In her new book, The Year Of Learning Dangerously: Adventures In Homeschooling, former child star Quinn Cummings, 47, illustrates her experiences homeschooling her daughter. She came to the decision after seeing her daughter make two years’ worth of teachers believe that she couldn’t understand long division when, in fact, she just didn’t enjoy doing it. Quinn looked for private schools but did not approve of the amount of homework her daughter would receive in that environment. “I wanted her to have a childhood, and I didn’t feel that that was the best way to get a childhood,” Cummings told Uinterview exclusively. “So why did we homeschool? We were greedy,” she said.
One of the conventional concerns of homeschooling is the impact that limited socialization might have on a child. Cummings took measures to avoid this by signing her daughter up to play team sports. “The science is pretty strong on the fact that whatever personality we have, we show up with genetically. She is a social individual, so she is going to be a social individual if she ever chooses to go back to school,” Cummings told Uinterview. “The first time she’s around a group of age peers in college, she’ll do fine. The people who home school, who have socialization issues, who are shy or uncomfortable, they would’ve been the shy, awkward kid in the classroom anyway. That’s the way they’re wired.”
Cummings received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress for The Goodbye Girl in 1977 when she was just 10. She has gone on to have a successful career as a writer and blogger. Her first book, Notes from the Underwire, was a tongue-in-cheek memoir. She also writes TheQCReport, a blog about juggling career and motherhood.
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We were slightly unusual for families that were homeschooling, in that there was no terrible driving incident. My daughter was very happy in school, she liked her friends, she had lovely teachers. But I had watched my daughter game through two years worth of teachers in a row into thinking she did not understand long division with remainders, when in fact she just didn’t like it. She had figured out that, if she didn’t like this part of math, she probably wasn’t going to like anything after it any better, so best to just stay here. I realized, with a sinking heart, that I had given birth to me. You just want your child to be better than you, and there I had one who was me in elementary school, just coasting along, doing the bare minimum and not learning how to learn. And I think learning how to learn is the most important tool you take away from elementary school. Her father and I looked for private schools that promised academic rigor. We certainly felt she would learn how to learn, but we felt as if two hours of homework every night wasn’t it either. I wanted her to have a childhood, and I didn’t feel that that was the way to get a childhood. So why did we homeschool? We were greedy.
My serious doubts were valid. By the second day, I realized she was fully prepared to use the same program on me as she had used on her teachers, and act as if she didn’t understand fractions, when I knew she did. I sat in the laundry room hyperventilating, thinking: ‘I must go to plan B. Wait, I don’t have a plan B. Oh, this isn’t good!’ About an hour later or so, I figured out fractions are like measurements, and measurements are like baking, so let’s go bake cookies. I will teach her fractions, she just won’t know it. That’s what eventually got me up off the floor that day. Every few days there would be something that I would come up against, where I'd think: 'I’m not qualified to teach this.' Then I realized: well, it doesn’t matter. My first question was always, ‘Can I palm it off on her father?’ If he wasn't home, I’d think: 'I’m going to have to figure this one out.' The Internet is marvelous. I recommend it highly. It’s got some real staying power. It was very useful.
The beginning of the growth was definitely among fundamentalist Christians and, to a lesser degree, people who were probably on the far end of the spectrum or didn’t feel engaged in popular culture. They lived off the grid and wanted to have their own experience. The earliest ones would’ve been the sort of hippies. But the last few years of growth have been among people who look a lot like me, except they’re more competent. They want something from education that the current system can’t give them. 20 or 30 years ago, maybe their children wouldn’t have been lacking in education or maybe the budget cuts wouldn’t have hurt their kids’ schooling. Maybe the parents would’ve simply said, ‘Yeah, I know you’re having a terrible time this year. Well, suck it up. Next year will be better,’ if they even knew that their children were struggling at all. Parents now are less inclined to let something ride. Maybe we should all just be letting them write out bad stuff. But, for a lot of parents, it’s unbearable to watch your child suffer.
It was really fascinating. They [conservatives] are still statistically the ones who are most likely to be homeschooling. They’re the biggest percentage. The schooling for non-religious reasons are growing faster, but they’re still a smaller part of the population. And yet, to listen to the fundamentalists give their lectures, it's as if they feel that they’re losing control of education; that, even within this community, they still feel as if the government continues to impinge on their education, and that the culture around them is trying to hurt their children. They’re pulling further and further within their community.
I worried a lot about not much, but that’s part of my family motto — that’s what I do. I was overly scrupulous about her seeing her friends in the afternoons. I made sure she was on a team sport, so when people said, ‘What about homeschooling?' I said, 'SHE’S ON A TEAM SPORT! I’m not breaking my child.' I hope. She’s okay. Touch wood. But I think she would’ve been okay anyway. The science is pretty strong on the fact that whatever personality we have, we show up with genetically. She is a social individual, so she is going to be a social individual if she ever chooses to go back to school. The first time she’s around a group of age peers in college, she’ll do fine. The people who home school, who have socialization issues, who are shy or uncomfortable, they would’ve been the shy, awkward kid in the classroom anyway. That’s the way they’re wired.
I had a neighbor who was a cinematographer, a man by the name of James Wong Howe — one of the greatest cinematographers who ever lived. I knew him as Jimmy, and we walked our dogs together. He was working on a movie which needed a child. He called an agent and said, ‘I know the girl who should come in for this part.’ Now we go to me. I had come home from school that day and, running across the playground, I had fallen and slid. So I was sitting in the bathtub, picking gravel out of my knee. I had undone my hair and my braids. My hair basically looked like corn floss. And my mother poked her head in the bathroom and said to me, ‘I think we’re going to go meet an agent for you.’ I said, 'Okay.' This was all news to us — we had known none of this. Jimmy had done it on his own. I said, ‘When?’ and she said, ‘Now!’ So I slapped a Band-Aid on my knee and hoped I didn’t dribble blood down into my sock. I redid my braids... one was here, the other was here, as they always were. The agent saw me and I think, in retrospect, the kids who worked at that point tended to fall into two categories: they were very pretty and shiny and perfect, or they were very quirky, quite overweight, or red-headed and freckled all the way up to the ears. They were really distinctive looking. I just looked like a kid. She sent me to an interview that afternoon for a commercial. I got it, and went on the set the next day. To this day, I remember what that set smells like because all sets smelled the same way for a long time, which was basically of sweat, burnt coffee, cigarette smoke, dust and mice. If I smelled that now, I would be happy. I liked it. I thought, 'They’re treating me like an adult and I have to do only three hours of school as opposed to six hours of school. I can make this work for me.'
I was usually somewhere near the entertainment industry. I tried to make it as a writer — a sitcom writer, not understanding that there are even fewer jobs for sitcom writers than there are for actors. I worked as an agent, which now means I’m impervious to screaming. I was always somewhere near the entertainment industry.
I was home with my daughter, she was about four. And because of the way the world works, a lot of my friends moved out of town, so I was writing e-mails to people saying here’s what’s going on, here’s a stupid thing I did, here’s something funny the kid said. And I realized I was cutting and pasting a lot of these e-mails. Which felt, kind of like, re-gifting. Also, I knew enough of my friends’ lives to know that they would wake up to sometimes 25, 30 e-mails in their box, and that never makes a person happy. I thought, 'Wait a minute, I will start putting this in a neutral space, and then when anybody wants to check in with me, they can. And then I’m not re-gifting.' I really thought this was being read by a few of my friends and maybe a couple of people who searched ‘Where’s Quinn Cummings?’ or ‘Is Quinn Cummings dead?’ No she’s not dead, here she’s blogging. But within two months of starting the blog, I was Newsweek’s Blog Of The Week. And I thought, 'Oh, more people are reading this than I thought.' But it’s still to me a venue through which I could talk to my friends, telling them stupid stuff that I’ve done. And luckily, I do a lot of stupid stuff.