Friday, March 25, 2011

Homeschooling Stereotypes!! Meh.

I'm blogging AGAIN.  Why has the frequency of Sardine Mama's posting gone up?  Is that what you're wanting to know?  Well, I'll tell's not good news.  When I'm blogging, I'm usually not doing any other writing, and vice versa.  So here I sit.  120,000 words into Nothing Good and so I am calling a truce between me and the Nothing Good at the moment.  Stupid manuscript.

What shall we talk about?  How about a little article I recently read?  It was about Middle Grade and YA novels featuring homeschooled characters. The author gave a brief description of each of the novels (there are a lot!) and then bashed them for succumbing to stereotypes.  There were a variety of these stereotypes and themes, but mostly they fell into about 5 categories, I think.

1.)  Weird, anti-social homeschoolers that get put into school and hilarity/tragedy results.
2.)  Normal kids being homeschooled (I like to call them stereotypically atypical homeschoolers) who are suffering from being homeschooled and WISH they could go to school, the results being that they usually end up in school where they flourish.
3.)  Hippie homeschooled kids.....parents are Out end up in school and hilarity/tragedy results.
4.)  Homeschooled vampires and superheros who can't go to school because DUH - they're vampires and superheros.
5.) Kids who are homeschooled on the high seas or archaeological digs....having great adventures and can't possibly go to school.

The author of the article was a little miffed that the novelists were using these stereotypes.  As for me?  Stereotypes exist for a reason.  And that reason is because they provide entertaining fodder for those of us who tend to observe life as if it were a never-ending sitcom....and then like to write about it.  Also?  With the exception of the vampires and the pirates, they're kind of accurate.

There are stereotypes for school kids, too....have you heard of Diary of a Wimpy Kid?  Stereotype after stereotype and nobody seems to be upset about it.  I'm a fan, by the way.  So yeah, books and movies about schools are not exempt from stereotyping....any middle school or high school is going to have the jocks, the cheerleaders, the band geeks, the drama gang....and then you have those unpopular loners in the corner of the cafeteria who wish they were homeschooled.

So when I see or hear of a homeschooled character being stereotyped as weird or geeky, do I get offended?  Not really.  Because all I have to do is look in the back of my van and a least one on board at any given time.  Better to hang in an environment where Weirdness is worshipped and glorified....and homeschoolers, if I may characterize for a moment, tend to be a pretty accepting group (as long as you go to their church...JUST KIDDING!!).

Can we discuss the Unique And/Or Quirky Homeschool Phenomenon for a bit?  A lot of families homeschool because they have a child for whom the socialization aspects of school (which can be brutal, let's face it) would be too difficult.  So if you head out to a homeschool park day, you're going to see some quirky kids.  Being themselves.  It makes my heart sing.  I have an Asperger's kid, and we know several other homeschooled Asperger's kids.  They're hoots.  In school, they might not be considered hoots, but in our circle they are just one more flavor of jelly bean.  Stereotypical of homeschooling crowds?  Yes, I think so, and I'm grateful for it. 

I do believe that this particular stereotype (the odd and quirky homeschooler) can also include the child who has never seen a television or met a person other than his brother or sister....we have not actually met any of these mysterious kids and I think they mostly exist in fiction - but then again - most of the jocks I knew in high school weren't dumb and neither were the cheerleaders.  And the band kids weren't all dorks.  We KNOW that...yet the stereotypes persist in our fictional culture and we'd all probably miss them if they didn't. So how seriously can we take this nonsense?

In one of my aggravating manuscripts, I have a load of stereotypes....YA fantasy novel.  I've got a homeschooled kid who perfectly fits the Odd / Smart Homeschool Stereotype....(he has Asperger's although I never come out and say it).  And I love his character.  He knows stuff.  Lots of stuff. And he spouts it off at the most inoportune times.  He's also one of an elite group of paritcular heros...and the boy can hold his own with a dagger. Here's a little exerpt - you'll remember this story from a previous post, maybe?  Narrated by a 15-year-old collector of souls whose voice a literary agent recently told me was too quirky and strong....remember that one?  Sigh.

"Is there anyone else here who wants to brag about his prowess on the yearbook staff maybe?" Todd-Rob asks. "Or in the marching band? And if so, could it please wait until after we’re done battling the pets of Satan Himself? Huh? Do you think it can wait?”

Silence. Obviously it can wait. Although there is one kid who looks like he’s just dying to give a synopsis of his science fair project. Seriously. He is bursting at the seams. Finally, he says, “It isn’t actually Satan. It’s just his minion, Sun-Diabolos.”

“Thank you for correcting me you Freaking Walking Encyclopedia of the Supernatural!” Todd-Rob bellows.

 “No problem,” says the Freaking Walking Encyclopedia of the Supernatural. Then he adds, “I’m homeschooled.” As if that somehow explains it.

It does explain the tube socks.

Before you lynch me for making fun of the homeschooled kid, let me say that I make fun of dumb jocks, too.  This is fiction, people.

“Some kind of a Tara-Naatha you are,” Todd-Rob mutters to me.

“Hey! No fair! This is extremely out of the ordinary. I dare say no other Tara-Naatha has had to deal with a stupid, pig-headed football player who is too dumb to even vacate his own dead body!”

Then I add, “No offense, Kurt.”

Kurt makes some kind of inaudible nasty sound. I can’t tell if he took offense, or not.

Okay, moving right along.  The next stereotype portrayed in books (not mine - I can't hit them all in one novel) is the Normal Kid who is being forcibly homeschooled by misguided parents.   These guys must hang out with that other elusive group....the isolated homeschoolers, because I've never met any of them, either.  I know lots of non-quirky kids being homeschooled, but none of them seem freaked out by it. There probably are kids being homeschooled who think they would rather go to school, but I bet there are more school kids running around wishing their parents would homeschool them.

Next up?  Hippie Homeschoolers.  Picture, if you will, Luna Lovegood from Harry Potter. That is what we're talking about.  Although Luna Lovegood went to Hogwarts and wasn't homeschooled.  But you get the idea.  We're not technically hippies.  We don't live in a commune (no matter what people say). We do tend to take part in protests of a certain sort, we have liberal leanings (stop laughing - I have personally met people who are more liberal than we are), we're environmentally conscious, we treat our kids with respect and don't make them go to school....don't make them do much of anything they don't want to do, really. We think there are excellent arguments for the legalization of marijuana and wear more than the average amount of tie-dye, but we're not anarchists.  In the past few years we've been less counter-cultural as the clockwise people have become more tolerant or simply desensitized to our antics...either way...we're not such a big deal around here anymore.

The last two stereotypes depicted in fictional works about homeschoolers....well, what can I say?  No vampires, shapeshifters, or superheros in the house.  And unfortunately, we are not homeschooling on the high seas.  Although we did drag a sardine can all the way to Northern California for three weeks....that's the trip that started this blog.

So I don't get why homeschoolers want to be portrayed in a certain way and if they're not, they yell stereotype.  The fact that we're being portrayed at all indicates we've finally been woven into the cultural quilt of neat-o little squares of stereotypes.  Like everyone else.  And it just doesn't bother me. That's how we roll as humans and I'm not sure it's entirely bad.  We are programmed by our very nature to classify and sort things, ourselves not excluded. 

I certainly don't like being lumped into over-generalized piles of whatever....and homeschoolers always need to be diligent where our rights are concerned.  In fact, I'm sure that for every word I have on this blog talking about how nicely we're all being treated by Society At Large - someone else is going through a nightmare dealing with authorities, neighbors, school districts and relatives in regards to homeschooling.  And that's worth paying attention really is.  But books that feature some stereotyped homeschooled fictional characters?  Well, they're simply worth reading. Save the angst for real battles. 

Signing Off as Sardine Mama, the stereotypically blocked fiction writer and prolific blog poster!


  1. I was a cheerleader and a band geek and fifth in my class. And my kids? I have the quirk, the math genius, the pure comedian, and a yet-to-be-determined 2 year old.

  2. Also, I like it when you post because I don't get to read your writer's blockade.

  3. Not sure where we fit in here, but then again, I'm not too sure where I fit anywhere.

    I am so enjoying your frequent blog posts - please don't make me go through withdrawal any time soon!

  4. I loved this post, and yes, stereotypes do exist for a reason.

    I once set up a play date for my son. He was, hmm, 10? And I told him about meeting 'John' and he said, "What's his affliction?"

    But in a matter-of-fact way. Like he knew it would be some other quirky homeschooler. And he was okay with it, just wanted to know what to expect.

    Can't wait to read your whole book.

  5. I love regular posts, don't mind one single bit at all. But suppose you can't make a living from blog posts - sorry about that. Wish we could homeschool, my children might not be learning a lot though - sigh. And I'd have to work a bit more than I am now, in order to be able to afford it and to teach them something at the same time - too lazy for that !

  6. I know you've met at least one homeschooled kid begging to go to public school (my oldest, and she's there now) but she is also quirky. :) I love your YA story...hope you get back to it soon. Quirky, strong voice? Yes. That's why I love it so much. :)

  7. LOL. This has to be my most favorite piece about homeschooling ever. :)

    By the way, if you ever decide to write an entertaining never-ending sitcom about homeschoolers, plmk. I promise to watch - even though I don't know what a TV is. :)

  8. when is the next post due please? I'm all ready for it!

  9. As you had mentioned before to me, John would make the perfect candidate to be homeschooled. He seems to be doing better in public school so that's good. Maybe next year Fred will have more time on his hands. But right now, we have no time. Just know that I haven't ruled it out just yet.
    Your Friend, who has it all together..., m.

  10. Hey, I want to read more of your work now! Has any of it been published yet? ;-)

  11. Thanks Sarah! I'm published in non-fiction but this is my first attempt at fiction and it is, in fact, killing me and taking over my life. Wait a minute, that must be out of order. It is, in fact, taking over my life and might darn well kill me. That makes more sense :).