In conversation

Every Monday my kids take Art, and I take myself to the Barnes & Noble cafe to get an early start on the days’ blog post, or to read or crochet – whatever.   Almost every time I am there I see the same two elderly gentlemen sitting at one of the tables, deep in conversation.  I enjoy knowing that they will be there, hearing the murmur of their voices and their occasional laughter.

Today when I walked in, only one of them was there, and the only open table was next to him.  So I walked over, put down my bag, got out my laptop and said, “You’re on your own here today?”

Thus began a 60+ minute conversation.   I told Henry (that’s his name) that I enjoy the fact that he and his friend are always there when I arrive.  It’s comforting, somehow.   He remarked that I am always working on my laptop – we regulars notice each other – and asked what I write.   I told him I write a blog about learning outside of school and that my kids are homeschoolers – unschoolers, to be precise.

“Are you a Republican?”   were the first words out of his mouth at that news.

I laughed.   “No, no.   And I’m not a fundamentalist Christian, either.”

Henry knew nothing about homeschooling or unschooling and asked me lots of questions.  I love it when people ask questions.  I love introducing them to our world.

At first he wasn’t sure.  Kept asking about the sense of community in the classroom and the unique ability school affords to observe social interactions, for good and bad, in groups.   I told him we are not isolated – far from it – and that my kids often participate in group activities & classes, just not all day every day with the same group.

By the end of the hour or so that we spoke, we’d talked not only about unschooling, but literature.  Henry is a retired professor of Medieval Literature, having taught at City College for 42 years, and I was a Lit Major in college.    He is also a published author, and I promptly wrote him a check for a copy of his novel, which he will bring next Monday. Signed, of course!  In case you’re interested, the website is

He told me he retired from teaching in 2000 at the age of 70, mostly because the students had become “barely literate”.    This, of course, only strengthened my case for learning outside of school, and he agreed that the constant emphasis on testing and grades has done possibly irreparable damage to our compulsory educational system.

“Well, I must say, I think you’ve convinced me,”  was how our talk on education ended.  (Oh!  Except for the fact that he told me that Harold Pinter was his school mate in grammar school in London, and they would always do skits together as kids, then met up again years later when Pinter gave a talk at the 92nd St. Y.  How cool is that?)

I got no writing done at the cafe today, but got something much better instead;  the opportunity to have a conversation – a real give and take – with someone who came to the table with one opinion about education and left at least considering the possibility of another.

It was a very good day.

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