A couple of weeks ago, I wandered into the hills north of the UC Berkeley campus and showed up at the door of a shambling Tudor that was filled with lumber and construction equipment. Samantha Matalone Cook, a work-at-home mom in flowing black pants and a nose ring, showed me around. Cook and her family had moved into the house in April and were in the middle of an ambitious renovation. “Sorry,” Cook said, “I didn’t tell you we were in a construction zone.” A construction zone, it turns out, that doubles as a classroom.
We walked into the living room where Cook’s two sons, Parker and Simon, were sitting on the couch, silently scribbling. The boys, aged 12 and 10, had the air of young Zuckerbergs-in-training. Babyfaced and freshly scrubbed, they spoke with a somewhat awkward and adenoidal lilt and wore sweatshirts with the hoods flipped up and no shoes. The room around them was chaos—piles of art supplies were stacked around the floor and paint samples were smeared next to the doorways. The family’s two dogs, Dakota and Kaylee, wrestled loudly over a chew toy. The sound of pounding construction equipment drifted in from the basement. And yet the boys were focused on what I soon learned were math workbooks—prealgebra for Parker, a collection of monster-themed word problems for Simon.
The Cook boys are homeschooled, have been ever since their parents opted not to put them in kindergarten. Samantha’s husband Chris never liked school himself; as a boy, he preferred fiddling on his dad’s IBM PC to sitting in a classroom. After three attempts at college, he found himself unable to care about required classes like organic chemistry and dropped out to pursue a career in computers. It paid off; today he is the lead systems administrator at Pandora. Samantha is similarly independent-minded—she blogs about feminism, parenting, art technology, and education reform and has started a network of hackerspaces for kids. So when it came time to educate their own children, they weren’t in any hurry to slot them into a traditional school.