Teachable Moments – Emily Zornado’s Story


Musical. If I had to think of one word to describe Emily and her family, it would be musical. I attended a few of their Christmas and New Year’s Eve parties, and anytime I was invited I was blown away by their talent. These parties were everything I wanted them to be – friends sitting around a living room, playing songs on their guitars and piano and drums and singing beautifully along. I actually first officially met Emily when we were both in a Christmas Cabaret show, although I had known of her for a long time, because like many of the people featured in this blog, she was homeschooled.


Emily is the oldest of three children in her family, and she was homeschooled until she began community college. When I asked Emily about her homeschooling experience she was overwhelmingly positive. Her family leaned towards an “unschooling” approach, although she avoids labeling their method of schooling because she said that people used to mistake her family for being Amish if she called herself an unschooler. Instead, her family liked to find the teachable moments throughout everyday life. Emily’s father is an English professor at RIC, and she told me that “he was a curriculum in and of itself. He knew how to find teachable moments. We did sit down and do things – like I remember doing vocab words and we would sit down and fill out our multiplication tables – that was terrible…. And then we would watch, like, Little House on the Prairie, and he would pause it and talk about the great plains, and manifest destiny, and Native Americans, and then he would pause it again, and Reverend Alden would be giving a sermon, pause it and talk about the bible… So we got the teachable moments, and in hindsight, those were a lot more than I realized in the moment, and I remember them.”  Emily had the freedom to explore topics in depth that she found interesting, and wasn’t forced to delve too deeply into subjects that she wasn’t as interested in. Overall, she told me that one of her favorite parts about having been homeschooled was that she was able to find what she found interesting about any particular topic and “not have to study the whole thing.”


Since I get asked so often how I was socialized when I was homeschooled, I have been asking all of my homeschooled interviewees this question as well. When I posed the question to Emily, her response embodied every feeling I’ve ever had about the supposed socialization conundrum that homeschoolers face in the minds of many. If an eye roll could result in permanent stickage of an eyeball to the back of the orbital cavity, this would have been the one. Exacerbated by years of people asking her this question, Emily said “it’s just exhausting, like – how were you socialized?!” as if she was talking to someone who legitimately wanted to know how she was a functioning member of society after not having gone to public school. She told me that she “did what every other kid does, you go and find friends because you’re kids – you can be friends with anybody.” Her parents involved her in teen groups and the library and she was never lost for friends. However, something she does consider herself lucky for avoiding are incidences of forced interaction with people she didn’t like.

When Emily was 15 she started taking classes at Quinebaug Valley Community College, and stayed for long enough to get 30 credits before transferring to Rhode Island College. She wasn’t at QVCC for very long, but was able to experience the classroom setting for the first time there. When she transferred to RIC, she began commuting. This was a logical decision for her, because her father is a professor there, so they already had a car going to and from the college every day. Emily was involved in theatre and enjoyed her job back home, and those weren’t things she wanted to give up to live in a dorm. When I asked her if she wished she had started at RIC as a freshman and gotten the “college experience,” she told me that she’s very glad she did college the way she did. She isn’t naturally a social person, so “having to live in a tiny dorm room and share that space with other people that I may or may not actively dislike… I just… And I liked being at home too much, I NEVER would have done that, it NEVER would have occurred to me.”


While talking to Emily, it is clear how intelligent and thoughtful she is, and she was incredibly insightful throughout our conversation. Something that she told me about living in dorms versus commuting to college is something that I want to share with you now, because I thought it was an important perspective that I happen to share with her.


“I think we have a better taste of what the world actually looks like, not that we know better, but we’ve just got a little sense of ‘that’s fake’. Manufactured. It’s not real life, and it’s not really preparing anybody for real life unless you’re gonna live in a loft with 8 other people… Or a commune… It’s not really what most people’s lives continue to look like after you graduate, so I didn’t feel like I needed that.”


Emily is currently working on her Bachelor’s degree in music education and has already graduated with a Bachelor’s in social work. She currently works at a performing and creative arts center in Putnam and loves what she does. Emily is one of two directors of a pre-professional musical theatre program, as well as a private voice teacher and instructor of an Introduction to Theatre class. She plans on getting another job that will give her health insurance when she graduates, but doesn’t ever want to stop the kind of work she’s doing right now. Either way, I know that Emily will continue to inspire creativity in young minds and foster the love of learning that her parents instilled in her when she was young.



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