Homeschool Book Review: Schooled by Gordon Korman

schooledBy Grace Gardener

As a child, I was very vocal about my being homeschooled: if I was in the room, everyone would find out about it within 10 minutes. Because of this, I encountered quite a few stereotypes regarding homeschoolers: apparently, we have no friends, are really smart – or really dumb – and we always vote conservative. One stereotype, however, I never heard: that of us being hippies. Surely, nobody could really believe that? Well, a certain group of people certainly does seem to believe it: authors. They typically portray homeschoolers as naive, otherwordly martial arts enthusiasts. In these books, the homeschooler has to go to a public school for the first time, and there encounters all-new, life-changing things such as wedgies and peer pressure. During their stay, they change everyone for the better, showing them the more simple and beautiful parts of life while simultaneously learning to look outside their own narrow world.

Schooled by Gordon Korman is just such a book. 13-year-old Capricorn has grown up with his grandmother Rain on a hippie compound called Garland. When Rain falls out of a tree and lands in the hospital, Capricorn – Cap for short – needs a place to stay. He finds a room with a social services worker called Mrs. Donnelly, who happens to have grown up in Garland and spends the rest of the book privately reminiscing about the horrible time she had there, even describing it as a cult. Meanwhile, Cap goes to the local public school, where he promptly gets chosen school president so that everyone can make fun of him when he inevitably fails. But of course, he doesn’t fail. Instead, when he leaves, the entire school is changed for the better and misses him. And then, seeing Cap needs school and friends, Rain decides to give up their farm, go live in the city, let Cap go to school, and let him watch reality shows because he needs a normal childhood.

My main issue with this book is how it portrays homeschoolers as the most out of touch aliens. Cap gets compared to a time traveller from the past various times. It admits that Cap is far ahead of his classmates in his studies, but he’s very far behind in everything else: he has never seen a girl up close before, doesn’t know what 9-1-1 or a policeman is, doesn’t understand the concept of a locker or speakers, and for some reason doesn’t know how to shake hands. I am willing to give that some homeschoolers might – and I say might – be 60’s type hippies who grow their own food, are vegetarians and believe in Zen Buddhism. I am also willing to acquiesce that a small part of homeschoolers is very sheltered. An even smaller part might be so sheltered it could be considered abusive. But at this point, we’re down to a tiny percentage of all homeschoolers. Most of us do understand how money works and what the phrase “get a life” means.

I also feel as if this book required no research whatsoever. If the author had done his work, he would have found that homeschoolers are socially more advanced than their peers. If he had done his work, maybe Cap would probably not have been a liberal pantheist but a conservative monotheist. As it is, the author doesn’t seem to have needed more than a vague knowledge of what homeschoolers are about to write this book. All of the information on what hippies did and believed was common knowledge, and I’m assuming the author got all his information about high school from his own younger years. This is just a very low-effort “what if?” story that rehashes old, dusty stereotypes and neglects to step out of any proverbial boxes.

The ending to the book is completely ridiculous: Rain takes Cap back to Garland, but she soon realizes he isn’t happy anymore. I can understand that: after all, he left behind all his friends. So what does Rain do? Does she decide to let Cap hang out with his friends, who only live 10 minutes away, keeping the rest of their lifestyle as it was? She does not. Rain goes big or she goes home. Not only does she decide to sell the farm and move to the city, from now on Cap will go to school and will be allowed to watch as much Tears and Trigonometry as he wants. This “twist” ending is very confusing, as it makes Rain completely betray all her previous convictions. It’s also just plain unrealistic. If a parent believes they’re doing what’s best for their child, they aren’t going to abandon the entire plan if their child feels sad about it. That’s not how parenting works.

The underlying assumption of the book’s grand solution is that homeschooling is the problem. If only Cap weren’t homeschooled, he would have friends, know about real life, and not mess up financially. That’s not how it works. And I personally don’t see how Rain had to go live in town to help Cap have friends. They have transportation. Furthermore, Cap going back to school seems counterproductive to me, especially since he got beaten up a few days before he left. And really? Watching Tears and Trigonometry is suddenly very important for the developing teenager? I don’t see why on earth Rain would teach Cap all these things about violence, meditation, openness and all that his entire life only to let all of those beliefs go in the end. This entire point is very unclear in the book. I think maybe she never really believed it, or she saw the error of her ways or something. To me it seems fake. You don’t just reverse your entire worldview within a few weeks.

Now, I want to make it clear that some people really should not homeschool their children. The increase in child deaths by abuse in the past one and a half years has made that point for me. And some homeschoolers might indeed live like Capricorn and Rain. But I believe it’s very harmful to only write books about these types of homeschoolers. You’re only strengthening the stereotype. And the people who hear these stereotypes are the future lawmakers of our countries. You know, the “experts” who are “genuinely concerned” about homeschooled kids and therefore want to make homeschooling as hard as possible for normal people who have never abused a child in their life.

I would like to end this review with a plea to all non-homeschooled writers trying to write a book about homeschoolers: can you please do your research? There are quite a lot of homeschoolers around if you try to find them. Go visit them, talk with them, try to see things from their perspective. Because, potentially, a book about a homeschooler who has to go to school for the first time is amazing. But they’re not just fun books that you can write without putting in the effort, and I’m really getting tired of seeing the stories told from the perspective of people who don’t know what they’re talking about.

Stupid Quotes from Schooled, by Gordon Korman

Capricorn

  • I was thirteen the first time I saw a police officer up close.
  • I didn’t even know what a license was.
  • “What’s nine-one-one?”
  • “I’ve talked on a telephone a couple of times. But we don’t have one.”
  • We wanted to avoid the low standards and cultural poison of a world that had lost its way
  • ((about his spelling tests)) I could always spot the extra words Rain threw in: nonviolence, Zen Buddhism, psychedelic… Microprocessor? […] Was that Rain or the state? I’d never heard that term before.
  • Too bad we didn’t believe in competition – all that emphasis on trophies and medals, the shiny symbols of an empty soul. Anyway, Rain said the whole trick was to get my to go to regular school. “If your project is excellent, it only proves that you’re getting a superior education right here with me” had been her reasoning.
  • Rain always said that anger upsets the balance inside a person. So when you yell at somebody, you’re attacking yourself more than whoever it is you’re yelling at.
  • I was horrified. I’d read about physical violence, but this was the first time I’d witnessed it in real life. It was sudden and lightning fast. Wild, vicious, ugly.
  • “I don’t like it here,” I complained. “It’s too crowded. People dress funny; they talk too fast; and all they’re interested in is things! Cell phones and iPods and Game Boys and Starbucks. What’s a starbuck?”
  • “I’m already finished with other teenagers. I’ve been in real school for one day, and that’s plenty. People are constantly screaming at each other. Two boys actually resorted to physical violence! I thought violence only happened in crimes and wars, but this was over -” I shrugged helplessly. “I can’t even explain it.”
  • “They’ve got these things called lockers,” I raved on. “The halls are lined with them. And you won’t believe what they’re for! They’re for locking stuff away – so other people won’t steal it! Why can’t everybody just share?”
  • That was precisely the word that was haunting me. Sophie Donnelly was beautiful. I had seen beautiful girls on book jackets, and even noticed some from a distance […]. But this was the first time I’d ever really met one.
  • It sure was a strange and complex world outside Garland.
  • “I’m a vegetarian.”
  • Something tingled directly beneath the peace sign I wore about my neck.
  • Rain always recommended meditation for stress and confusion. But if you meditate in front of your locker, someone might steal your sandals while your eyes are closed.
  • I know complaining is a negativity trip, but it was hard to stay positive about the floor of a school bus. It’s a collecting place for the filthy, smelly, sticky, sticky and often sharp and jagged castoffs of a society run wild.

Mrs. Donnelly

  • The instant I saw him there with all that hair and all those beads, I just knew. Garland.
  • So help me, I didn’t know how weird it all was until my parents decided they were too old to be hippies anymore, and we rejoined the real world.
  • “Oh, don’t worry about Cap from an academic standpoint,” he assured me. “He’s right up there with our brightest and best. Commune or no, he’s been very well educated by someone.”
  • I thought of Rain and shuddered, even after all these years. She had always been the teacher at Garland. For someone who rejected all forms of authority, she was a major tyrant in the classroom. If she hadn’t adopted the hippie lifestyle, she would have made a terrific Marine drill sergeant. Then Mr. Kasigi let the other shoe drop. “Yet socially – in my entire teaching career, I’ve never met a student who knows so little about ordinary everyday living.”
  • […] deep in my heart I believed that a genuine school, nasty and merciless as it could be, was still better than Garland Farm.
  • She [Sophie] couldn’t bear that Cap woke up early to practice tai chi on our front lawn.
  • His answer brought me straight back to Garland. “When you’re unkind to others, it’s usually because you don’t believe that you, yourself, deserve kindness.”
  • “Rain says you always know what you’re doing when you’re doing the right thing.”
  • There was no TV at Garland […]. Rain said television was a vast wasteland that lowered our standards until we couldn’t tell the difference between bad and good. I would never disagree with Rain, but I thought T&T was fantastic. […] It was a perfect symbol for life outside Garland – huge, complicated, and full of hidden traps and pitfalls. Plus, every now and then, the program stops and the TV tells you about all the great things you can buy, like a miracle cream that makes it scientifically impossible to get a pimple.

Zach Powers (popular bully)

  • Locker 743. “Here it is,” I told him. “You’ve got the combo, right?” He just stared at me blankly. […] “But what does it mean?”
  • “When we lock things away,” he said with conviction, “we’re really imprisoning ourselves.”

Rain

  • “You know what television is, but you’ve never watched it. You know what pizza is, but you’ve never tasted any. You know about friendships, but you’ve never had a friend.”
  • “You have to feel sorry for them,” Rain said with a sigh. “Nonviolence isn’t something everyone understands.”

Hugh Winkleman (school’s resident loser)

  • If you want to understand middle school students, there’s only one way to do it: follow the wedgies. Wedgiegivers and wedgie-receivers.
  • I stuck my hand out, but he just stared at it. It wasn’t a snub. […] This was cluelessness. He honestly didn’t know what to do.
  • (after the principal made an announcement over the PA speakers) Cap scanned the ceiling. “Who is that? If he wants to talk to us, why doesn’t he just come into the room?”
  • “Of course not. I don’t believe in government. I come from an autonomous collective.”

Naomi Erlanger (popular girl turned good)

  • “That’s not it,” I said in a tremulous voice. “He’s burying the bird.”
  • “It’s tai chi,” he explained. “It develops balance through a blending of mental and physical energy.”

Sophie Donnelly (love interest)

  • Josh was dropping me off while the freakazoid was scraping a third-world country off his feet.
  • “There’s no almost,” he lectured serenely, “Only ‘happened’ and ‘didn’t happen’. This didn’t happen.”
Grace’s Bio: “I have been homeschooled since age 7. Originally from Europe, my family and I have already spent 4 years abroad as missionaries and hope to serve for a long time yet. I love books, movies, board games and talking. On HomeschoolingTeen.com I write book and movie reviews, which you’ll soon be able to find in video format at The Jesus Fandom channel on YouTube.”

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