What does genius risk-taking look like in the context of school?

Often my reading about school makes me angry. There’s a big conversation on Mr. Money Mustache about how everyone knows their kids are wilting in school. And yet, they still send their kids to school. It’s amazing to me how much parents understand the detriments of school even as they turn their brains off to follow the status quo.

So then I offend everyone. Because pretty much half the readers of this site send their kids to school. Maybe more. I don’t know. But they always think I’m too enraged and on my high horse to the point that it feels like the majority of the readers here send their kids to school.

So I thought I’d try to be fun. Maybe I need to be more fun. Today’s post is fun. It’s a series of test answers that are totally wrong but still genius. I found them on Distractify.

Of course I am still able to look at this test answer and tell you that it shows how absurd tests are. That the world is not full of right and wrong answers. But I can also laugh. So we are doing that today. Here’s another.

And this seems like a good time to tell you about the moment I knew I would marry my first husband. He told me that on the AP English test he wrote a few sentences about how the incorrect grammar made the first part of the question not apply to the second part of the question. And he got a 4 out of 5. There’s a special kind of intelligence there that is very attractive to me – it’s the combined deep thinking and risk taking.

I want my kids to learn that. And it won’t be from taking these tests. Or going to school.


24 replies
  1. victoria
    victoria says:

    Did we read the same conversation? Because very few people in that conversation were arguing in favor of Mr. Money Moustache keeping his son in his current environment. The vast majority were advocating homeschooling, at least part-time, in their situation. Most of the remainder suggested that he look into schools with alternative approaches. Very few people said that a kid who is unhappy in school should stay there.

  2. christy
    christy says:

    I had a middle school teacher who gave the class a 10-page multiple choice answer test.

    She was a nun. She was all about following instructions and rules. While the last two sentences are not dependent on one another, they are related. At least in my experience they are related.

    As she handed it out, she said, “Be sure to read and follow all of the instructions.”

    The instructions said that one should read through all of the questions and answers prior to answering any questions on the test.

    Because I had recognized somehow that her desire was for rule-following as much as learning, I did as the instructions asked. At the bottom of the last page, it said something like, “If you have read through the test without marking any answers to this point, make a check mark here, and hand in your completed test.”

    I did that.

    I was the only one.

    I never lived it down among my classmates.

    I hated school.

  3. Khadija
    Khadija says:

    This is an amazing post. The rotten economy has produced many good things. One of them is that we no longer have stores stuffed with absolute junk. The bad is being whittled away. Perhaps educational ideas will follow suit.

  4. sarah
    sarah says:

    Ha ha. You read MMM? Did you see, last week I think, I refered him to your blog about homeschooling? I generlly stay out of the comments section due to how much it annoys me. I dont know how MMM handles it. :)

  5. Kim
    Kim says:

    School is not for risk taking. It is about conforming to others’ ideas and forfeiting your own. I was shut down way too many times in school, to count, for taking risks and challenging teachers and the status quo.

    Please don’t be fun, Penelope. There are people who are listening and aren’t simply easily offended mindless drones. Your articles are challenging and some people don’t like that because they haven’t been taught to challenge anything.

    • Jay Cross
      Jay Cross says:


      That’s so true, and in fact, it’s not even an inference that education critics make about the system. It was the explicit intention of the people who created our school system.

      Here is a quote from John Rockefeller’s “General Education Board” in 1906.

      “In our dreams…people yield themselves with perfect docility to our molding hands. The present educational conventions [of intellectual and moral education] fade from our minds, and unhampered by tradition, we work our own good will upon a grateful and responsive folk. We shall not try to make these people or any of their children into philosophers or men of learning or men of science. We have not to raise up from among them authors, educators, poets or men of letters. We shall not search for embryo great artists, painters, musicians, nor lawyers, doctors, preachers, politicians, statesmen – of whom we have an ample supply. The task we set before ourselves is very simple…we will organize children…and teach them to do in a perfect way the things their fathers and mothers are doing in an imperfect way.”

  6. Sarah M
    Sarah M says:

    Oy, that MMM article was brutal to read. The only thing holding him back is, what you like to call it, Penelope, the free babysitting.

    “Take out centi.” Clearly.

    Sarah M

  7. Dorie
    Dorie says:

    Penelope, I wonder how many of your readers fall into the category that I am in. I went to public school, my husband was a homeschooler (2nd grade through graduation) and we haven’t made a final decision about home school for our children yet. Fortunately, we have time (our oldest is 2) but we also know that the decision on how to best educate our children is one that has to be on going. We have to continue to educate ourselves further and continue to talk about the pros and cons of all of our options.

    The homeschooling portion of your blog also serves as an amazing reminder for me about the differences in how my husband and I interact with the world we live in. Our educational experiences before we turned 18 had such dramatic and different influences on the adults we have become.

  8. Mrs. Money Mustache
    Mrs. Money Mustache says:

    Hi Penelope!

    I love your blog and have been reading quite a bit about your homeschooling stuff lately, although I think this might only be my second comment ever.

    After MMM posted that article, I started doing a ton of reading about homeschooling and unschooling. The comments were extremely encouraging in this direction (I’m curious what bothered you about the article and/or the comment – please tell me!)

    Homeschooling feels like the right thing to do and we are in transition now, as you probably were once yourself.

    The issue with our son right now is that he’s not sure he wants to leave, which is interesting. I have given him the option, we’ve talked about the steps we will take, and now he’s hesitating. Ultimately I want this to be a joint decision. I don’t want to pull him out of school if he’s not ready. We’ve talked about taking him out for the rest of this year (and possibly continuing some of his classes at school like art, which he loves), but he’s having a hard time making the decision. It’s funny that as soon as I made the decision to take him out, he suddenly doesn’t want to leave… in fact, he didn’t even want to talk about it for days and days. It was like he was mad at me or something.

    Did you encounter this with your kids? Or were they all too happy to leave? Should I just tell him we’re doing it? I’d love to hear your opinion.

    Right now I’m at the point where I’m trying to educate myself more and I volunteer regularly so I’m trying to make an impact in the classroom. I’m writing to the principal about things that are happening that I am really opposed to, although for the most part I really like his school.

    I see many positives about his school day (babysitting is not one of them… I would gladly spend all day with him – I actually really miss him during the day), yet many negatives too.

    Anyway, tell it to me straight! That’s what I love about your blog! That is the main reason it is so fun to read and so funny too. Too many people who blog try to please everyone… that’s what makes their blogs less interesting. Personality with always offend some, but it shines through in a magnificent way to the rest of us.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Hi. It’s fun that you commented.

      My younger son wants to go to school. I don’t let him.

      It’s clear to me that he has no ability to understand why school is crushingly terrible. I mean, most adults can’t even see it.

      The reinforcement kids get about school is incredible. The ads on TV talk about how important it is for kids to succeed in school. All the sitcoms make school look totally fun because all the plot twists happen there. People you meet ask you what grade you’re in, like you don’t exist if you are not in a grad. It goes on and on.

      So I decided that there is no way to ask a kid to decide to go against all of this and decide to leave school. Some kids love school and some kids hate school. It doesn’t mean that school is better for the kids who love it.

      In fact, school might be worst for the kids who do the best. If you get used to being told you are smart and good for learning what someone tells you to learn then it’s a rude awakening when no one gives you gold stars as a young adult. And it’s a rude awakening when no one tells you what to do as a young adult. I think the kids who do worst transitioning out of school are those who are most comfortable in school.

      • Mrs. Money Mustache
        Mrs. Money Mustache says:

        Thanks for the response. I really appreciate it, as it’s something I have been struggling with a lot lately.

        My son doesn’t like school. That is pretty clear. He doesn’t watch TV so I don’t think he’s affected by these types of reinforcements, but you never know. That’s something I hadn’t thought about before! Thanks for the insight.

        Looks like I have a lot to figure out. I also know that I need to be organized and effective when it comes to homeschooling (or most likely unschooling)… my son is a homebody (so am I) and getting him out of the house is hard. One thing I like about school is that he bikes to and from school every day. He gets away from his computer, which he is addicted to (although he makes music, which I think is really valuable, so I’m torn there too), and he spends a lot more time with friends (kids often come over after school) than he would on a weekend or holiday.

        Anyway, these are all just excuses and can easily be resolved with proper planning… I’m sure we’d eventually find a good, natural rhythm.

        Thanks again for the response. I think that like many things, once you take the plunge, you become a convert and can see things so easily in retrospect… but sometimes getting to that place is a struggle in the beginning.

        • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
          YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

          “I think that like many things, once you take the plunge, you become a convert and can see things so easily in retrospect… ”

          Yes… convert is a great word to describe the way you see things, even though it has a negative connotation to it.

          I was going to post a bunch of Penelope’s other links that I love, but I figured that it’s best for you just to go through them all.

          It’s beautiful to see how her perspective has shifted over the years since she first began homeschooling.

        • Commenter
          Commenter says:

          Hi Mrs MM

          I encourage you to think about homeschooling not as something where you have to do a certain set of things you don’t do now, or follow a specific plan (be that school at home or unschooling), but as a natural outgrowth of your current lifestyle choices. You folks sound (from your blog, which I found via right hyar) like really handy and interested folks, who love to do fun projects and include your kid in them. You got your homeschooling right there! You guys know how to do an awful lot, and like to do it, and your kid will too.

          The part that’s likely to change is that you untie yourself from the school calendar, so you can go on trips when other kids can’t. You also might end up meeting more homeschooling families in your area, so your kid might end up with more social and learning activities during the day.

          It’s normal for your kid to feel a little hesitant to leave the school he’s in, even if he’s on balance unhappy there. There are probably things he likes there, and he may be worried he won’t see his friends anymore.

          It might be reassuring to him to meet some homeschooled kids before you take the plunge. A little of the old Goog turns up that you have a local homeschool group (Longmont Homeschool Group) right there – says they have about 80 families. If I were you, I’d try to join and get together with them. That might just change his mind.

          Do thank the Mr. for his good work. I had a similar insight to his after my first ‘real’ job, when I went suddenly from 24K to 65K a year: if I hold the spending back, I can retire in ten years. I was very puzzled that my peers didn’t share my insight. Things worked out a bit differently for us, but well done on proving out the theory. I’m enjoying reading the posts over there.

          I’ll tell you right now that the lifestyle you guys propose is wonderfully compatible with homeschooling. Talk about a superior education! I’m wicked lame in comparison.

        • Amy K.
          Amy K. says:

          Mrs. MM, we’re also considering homeschooling. Like your son, my boys attend a nearby public school, and we enjoy walking or biking to school. As I do research about homeschooling, I am coming to the sad conclusion that we are going to have to become “homeschleppers” if we want to have a social life with other homeschooling families. People keep telling me that the Bay Area

          • Amy K.
            Amy K. says:

            Whoops! Serves me right for commentin via phone. Anyway, I think it’s ok to mourn the loss of the locality of the neighborhood public school. I’m willing to at least try schlepping for a more positive social environment.

  9. Lara
    Lara says:

    Ahhh, but there’s a little funniness in this post, to me at least… If the pictures that you showed are from actual tests taken in schools… then it shows that some risk taking and creativity CAN be learned while attending school! ;-)

    Great post. I love your homeschooling blog.

  10. MBL
    MBL says:

    In school we had to write a page or so describing a word. I handed in a blank sheet of paper and told her mine was “imaginary.” I got a zero. She probably should have told me to imagine there was a ten in front of the zero.

    My favorite one of those example type things are for “find x.” The person circled the “x” and put a cheerful “Here it is!!!” by it.

    • MBL
      MBL says:

      I just clicked the distractify link and “find x” is on there.

      But I think my new favorite is # 26. Who knew a response to a pap smear question could be so charming?

      #32 is pretty hilarious too.

  11. KDay
    KDay says:

    Personally I would consider it a compliment if 1/2 or more of your readers are those whose children attend public school. To me it would confirm your convictions that the traditional, public school model is not the end all be all that our society would like us to believe it is. The fact that there are so many people, living in the current model, trying to gather information about alternative education models, only further confirms that the current, traditional model isn’t meeting the needs of the subscriber/user.

    Be proud Penelope! You are a voice, a strong and powerful voice. If nothing more, you give insight and perspective to those who are searching. What, other than being a parent, could be more rewarding?

  12. Heather Sanders
    Heather Sanders says:

    These worksheets reminded me of one of my homeschool co-op writing classes a few weeks back. This is a 3rd and 4th grade (approximately) class, so I’ve repeatedly reminded them that they shouldn’t have randomly capitalized letters in their words, or words in their sentences.

    I wrote an example on the whiteboard, and not thinking, I wrote it in all caps. I print in all caps, always; it’s a habit I picked up from my father, and it’s been with me since high school.

    So, there I am writing in ALL CAPS on the whiteboard, and one of my kids raises his hand and says, “Ms. Heather, why are you capitalizing all the letters and words in your sentences?”

    I turned, looked at him, looked at the other kids in the class, and said, “Purely out of habit.” Then, I went and picked up a red, dry erase marker, circled my sentence and wrote, “- 10 pts.” in large letters across all my work.

    They laughed and laughed and apparently went home and told their parents how Ms. Heather had taken off 10 points from her OWN WORK.

    Kids can pick up on hypocrisies faster than you can imagine. I write in all caps, why can’t they?

  13. Alana
    Alana says:

    I substitute teach to make money until I can find something more permanent. What I hate about teaching is that we are not allowed to tell the truth. The students asked me, “Why do we need to learn geometry?” Since, they are sick of being bullshitted, I just told them, “Because you are in a government facility, run by agents of the government, and the United States and the state of Minnesota say you need to learn this.” And after school I got in trouble for saying that. The students actually started working because I didn’t make excuses like their teachers.

  14. redrock
    redrock says:

    you could not come up with a single idea where geometry might be helpful? Knitting a sweater, sewing a dress, cutting a cake, building a treehouse, furnishing an apartment, making a shelf, planting a garden….. all of these benefit from at least a basic understanding of geometry.

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