Saturday, March 06, 2010

Thoughts on "Schooled" by Gordan Korman

a book which makes me question the intersections between home education, capitalism and community

No Spoilers

Meandering through a bookstore, a bright yellow book entitled “Schooled” caught my eye. I pick it up, turn it over and begin to read the summary. The main character, Capricorn (Cap) Anderson is a homeschooled boy who has never watched television, tasted pizza or heard of a wedgie. He has been raised on a commune by his Grandmother, Rain. But, Rain falls out of a Plum tree and breaks her hip. Placed in foster care for the duration of her recovery, Cap suddenly finds himself placed in 8th grade in a modern American middle school.

I decide to buy it. I’m very curious about how the author is going to treat this subject. This is the first book I’ve encountered with a homeschooled child as a primary character. Let me rephrase that. This is the first book in which a philosophy of home education contributes to the circumstances surrounding a homeschooled primary character. For example, the poor children in the Lemony Snickett books are home educated, but, nobody addresses this fact. It is just the way in which their lives are being lead.

I bought this book even though I was well prepared to be offended by it. The circumstances are stereotypical. The first question most people ask home educating parents is, “What about socialisation.” For this reason, the book already had a strike against it. Isolated, sheltered child with no socialisation gets thrown out into the big wide world. To quote the book jacket, “Right from the beginning, Cap’s weirdness makes him a moving target at Claverage Middle School.”

Suddenly, here is a book in a major bookstore with a homeschooled primary character. When I decided to purchase a book which I was sure to offend me it was also because another question nagged at me. Are we, the homeschooling community, being viewed as a market by the publishing community. And if so, what message are they trying to send us?

These days, it sure feels that way. The resources available to home educators in my local community seem to indicate that we are being viewed as a fantastic new market. (Not that I am complaining, it is nice to have such affordable educational opportunities for my son.) Sixteen years ago, I was hard pressed to find any secular educational and social opportunities for my daughter. Today, my son attends classes just for home educated children at the Natural History Museum, Science Centre, The First Tee Of Pittsburgh, the Pittsburgh Zoo & Aquarium. He participates in all of these activities, in addition to the more organic, community driven enrichment classes provided by our largest resource, PALS Enrichment Programs. And still, everyday, some new tutor who wants “to serve the homeschooled community” pops up offering their services.

So, I am leery of a book with a home educated character. I want to know exactly what the publishing industry thinks of us. I also want to know what they want from us. With home education on the rise, I can only assume that people think they’ve found a jackpot. From the outside, we must seem like an incredible market. More and more these days, American children are moving towards electronic stimulation.

On-line video games, Ipods, portable game machines and home entertainment centres dominate the landscape of children’s free time. A child today never has to crack a book for entertainment unless their parent has strict requirements about screen time. Who is left to buy these crazy archaic blocks of text which demand some amount of brain engagement and imagination? These things are heavier than a Wii remote; take more energy to consume; and worse, are made from trees.

Well the answer to that question is a bunch of radicals who are either right or left of centre. Both groups seem to be willing to make sacrifices for their children on behalf of their education. Both groups seem to have some sort of ideology which is important to them. But, one group - the one a little left of centre - seems to value critical thinking, pursuit of knowledge and logic. You can sell more books to a group like this, after all, they are willing to look objectively at anything you try to offer them.

So, I open the book and begin to read. By chapter three, I am feeling more forgiving towards the author. Right around chapter twelve, I begin to understand that the author would be unable to advance the plot without the stereotypical nature of Cap’s upbringing. I also realise that it has a distinct head nod towards Christianity. A clear Jesuit affirmation of “Give me the boy until he is seven and I will give you the man.” I’m okay with that, part of me buys into that idea.

My own personal experience of homeschooling 19 years ago validates this thought. My firstborn was not raised in isolation. She was, however raised among people of like minds. Because we allowed a certain amount of media and awareness of society at large, she was not quite as out of her depth as Cap. However, her transition to a mainstream school had some intersections with the way in which Cap navigates his new circumstance.

From chapters 20 until 30, I began to understand the way in which the author attempts to serve both communities of homeschoolers. Cap becomes Jesus. It isn’t until the final chapter - chapter 31 - that the author chooses no alternative side. he chooses the mainstream - with boundaries, balance, limits and a head nod to staying true to your beliefs.

I am still left with questions. I am still trying to figure out who the publishing industry thinks they want to serve. The book is a delicious tightrope walk between conflicting ideologies.

I enjoyed the read. I do not regret buying the book. I only hope they can do further investigation into reality and portray us accurately in the future. Standing on the fence and then falling into the mainstream does nobody any good whatsoever.