The inspiration for this post comes from an article in the sadly now-defunct Secular Homeschooling Magazine. In it, Deborah Markus discusses the portrayal of homeschoolers in children’s and YA books. My post focuses on my specific experiences as a homeschooler trying and usually failing to find good books about others like me.
Quick, name a famous homeschooled character from any book at all!
You can’t, can you?
That’s not entirely surprising. We’re not in very many books. Even when a book does feature homeschoolers (let alone portrays them well), it’s usually not well-known. (There is one big exception but I’m not sure most people realize the characters were homeschooled. Hint: It’s a series.) In all my wanderings about the library, I don’t think I’ve ever stumbled across a book with a homeschooled main character. I’ve always had to purposely look for them. It frustrates me. We’re not that weird. I know we only make up something like 3% of American schoolchildren but it’s not that uncommon to meet a homeschooled kid, so why shouldn’t it be that way in fiction?
What qualifies a character as homeschooled? Obviously if the book/author says they are, then they are. But what about books like Little House on the Prairie? Laura and her sisters didn’t attend school all the time; were they sometimes homeschooled? I would say no, at least not in the modern sense. Nowadays homeschooling is unusual but a few hundred years ago it was normal, so generally characters in historical fiction (or fantasy) don’t counts as homeschoolers.
Some of my homeschooled friends love Jerry Spinelli’s Stargirl books, but I don’t. I’m not a huge fan of Spinelli’s writing anyway but I gave them a try – and gagged the whole way through. The writing is like bad poetry and the main character is a pet-rat-owning, pioneer-dress-wearing, clueless-about-the-real-world freak. It’s funny; in real life all homeschoolers are often assumed to be ultra-religious but in fiction it’s presumed that we’re all hippies. If you found Luna Lovegood irritating then you will want to hurl Stargirl off a cliff. I don’t care if people wear pioneer dresses in public or don’t watch TV, but could authors please stop giving homeschooled characters all the quirks? Spread them out over all the characters!
There are two authors I want to pitch off a cliff: Christopher Paolini (but you already knew that) and Gordon Korman, the writer of Schooled. His main character is a boy who’s lived his whole life in a commune but eventually has to attend public school where (of course) he has no idea how the real world functions. He’s never handled money or eaten a pizza or seen a spitball. A few years ago my brother and I actually wrote to Korman to see if he had something against homeschoolers or was just stupid. It turns out it’s the latter, as his reply stated that he’d received similar letters from other homeschoolers and he had no idea why we were all so mad about the number of stereotypes in Schooled. I don’t even know why I still have a copy of that book. Maybe someday it’ll be so cold that I can burn it for warmth.
My favorite book about homeschoolers is Ida B… and Her Plans to Maximize Fun, Avoid Disaster, and (Possibly) Save the World by Katherine Hannigan. Ida has to attend public school after her mother gets cancer and her family doesn’t have time to homeschool her in between doctor’s appointments and whatnot. Ida is smart and goofy; she reminds me of myself a little bit. I love that this book shows the good and bad sides of homeschooling and school. I can’t remember if Ida returns to homeschooling at the end but I think she might, which doesn’t usually happen.
Unfortunately, Ida is also nine years old. I like little kids, but where are the books about homeschoolers my own age? Plenty of families choose to continue homeschooling through high school. I want to see them in books – besides my own, that is! Most of my characters are homeschooled not because I’m trying to say grand things about homeschooling or even just have a little more diversity, but because it’s convenient. My characters are too busy traveling all over the world or assisting famous scientists in their research to be tied down to school schedules. I don’t feel bad about using homeschoolers because it’s easy since I know what it’s really like to be one. I’m sure books written by homeschoolers about homeschoolers exist, but I’ve never read any.
What homeschoolers have you found in fiction? What did you think about them?
P.S. Those famous homeschoolers are the Weasley kids from Harry Potter. Real live proof is here in this interview with J.K. Rowling. It’s also mentioned in Deathly Hallows that before Voldemort came to power a second time, wizarding families had the option of homeschooling their children instead of sending them to Hogwarts. To me, his banning homeschooling is even worse than the attempt to kill baby Harry! Just kidding.
This isn’t related to homeschooling but on the occasion of Liam, Head Phil reaching six hundred followers on his blog, some other bloggers and I wrote a story for him. Go check it out. Now. It’s hilarious and I’m rather proud of my crazy little bit. (My section is fourth from the top, in pink.) It was amusing to see how crazy the other writers made “me”. Gee, thanks, guys.