my search for the great homeschooled novel

Back around 2011, when I bought an up-to-date Guide to Literary Agents and did market research while sincerely believing I could sell a middle grade book despite my utter distance from the literary market, I read that there was a gap in the market for book about homeschooled kids.

As a homeschooling grad, I thought (and still think) I could fill that gap. But not right now; right now, I don't know what the Great Homeschooled Novel looks like. I'll probably be fumbling towards that as I continue to write, for adults as well as for kids.

There are a couple of things that resonated with me as a homeschooled grad, and I feel like these influences will bring me closer to figuring out how to portray the experience:

  • Where the Red Fern Growswhich struck me as a kid as familiar and vivid and adventurous, same as it would strike any other kid, right? There is a scene where the wild boy protagonist comes face-to-face with a normal schoolboy from town, and someting in that scene make me realize that I was the wild boy and not the schoolboy.
  • Captain Fantastic, which I had been dying to see since it came out but have watched only recently. Based on the childhood of the director Matt Ross, the family in the movie has a particularly White Anarchist back-to-nature philosophy, but so much of it rings so true to my life. It would be easier to list the differences:
    • That we were seven siblings, not six
    • That my dad plays flute and drums, never bagpipes
    • That our mobile home wasn't a renovated bus named Steve, but a brougham of some sort
    • That my dad doesn't make fun of christians, not that much
    • That my dad would never buy us knives (wth?)
    • That we didn't celebrate Santa OR Noam but Ramadan
    • Oh, and my mom is still alive
  • The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, which I haven't seen yet. I know the show covers themes of innocence/shelteredness that I am afraid I will relate too strongly. In my mind, the set-up is too close to the narratively-ironic innocence of Room, which gets way into the darker side of seculsion from society, way into abuse and neglect. I haven't seen that either, and don't really want to...
  • Similarly, Dancer in the Dark, and the rest of Lars Von Trier's Golden Heart Trilogy. The sweetness/darkness of Dancer in the Dark resulted in it being the only movie that's ever made me cry. Having Bjork portray an immigrant who believes in Broadway musicals but gets screwed over by America is just too cruel. I haven't seen the others in this trilogy, but I got into his unfinished American Trilogy through Dogville, which smacked the martyr out of me and also killed me a bit. (It was a good idea to watch them both entering the nonprofit world! 🙂)
  • On a lighter note, I loved The Wild Thornberries, or anything else where the kids live in an RV and learn from books and nature but not teachers. That show gets special bonus points because Nigel Thornberry's job is the one I once wanted. (RIP Steven Irwin, forever love and admiration for you and your wife and your kid 💙) This was one of the few kids cartoons I could watch not set in a school, but there should be more. I like to think the lack is what drove me to anime like Pokemon, which featured preteens running wild, free of all institutions, and learning about fauna and flora.
  • I occasionally read up about the Quiverfull movement, although I have been shy of watching or reading too much about the Duggars or Jon + Kate, because of all the hate aimed at them. A lot of the homeschool movement is Christian, though, so I'm obligated to know about them as well as the anti-establishment hippies, I guess.
  • Speaking of hippies, Sufjan Stevens, but also anything related to Wardorf schoolsMontessori schools, or other kinds of alternative education. Since I really don't know how to portray school in fiction, I really have no choice but to set my child characters in settings where they have more choice, freedom, or democracy in how they learn. Oh well.
  • Anything Jaden And Willow Do Or Say Or Think Or Make Or Sing, on a similar weird-schooling note.
  • And last but not least, J. D. Salinger's Glass family stories. I can't and won't say too much about how this series affected me for fear of spoiling an upcoming project, but I know me and my siblings bonded over this series. It's already providing me a roadmap for how to write my life.

The Principle of Charity, in Interpersonal Relationships

So yeah, I guess I studied philosophy or something. And I guess I was good at it? (3.9 GPA, departmental honors, Phi Beta Kappa Society, summa cum laude, etc etc).

But now that I am out of the academic world, I don’t think that’s anything that could be guessed by looking at me, a slight and quiet black girl fond of miniskirts and cat-eared hats. Girls normally study feminism if they study thought, and black people take cultural studies, isn’t that the stereotype?

And black intellectuals are rare enough that no one expects intellect of me. Although I relate to the absent-minded professor archetype and consider academia if only to complete the expectation, I feel that few people see me as intelligent. They see absentmindedness + blackness and think = stupid or they see absentmindedness + female and think = ditz. I know because they they start to overexplain, talking slowly, and I need to resist the need to roll my eyes until they break free of their optic nerves.

Such is the power of stereotypes.

Within philosophy, there’s a rule created to prevent this kind of lazy thinking. It’s called the Principle of Charity.

To quote Wikipedia:

In philosophy and rhetoric, the principle of charity requires interpreting a speaker's statements to be rational and, in the case of any argument, considering its best, strongest possible interpretation. In its narrowest sense, the goal of this methodological principle is to avoid attributing irrationality, logical fallacies or falsehoods to the others' statements, when a coherent, rational interpretation of the statements is available.

In order to be charitable towards someone’s views, you assume that they are logical and truthful--and intelligent, I would add. In order to address a person charitably, you address the strongest form of their argument even when arguing against it. So no straw man arguments, no twisting people’s words, no playing dirty.

The people I like, the people who get me, the people I actually spend time with were first charitable with me. And eventually, they move from charitability to normal understanding, because taking my thought in its strongest form is the likeliest way to understand what I mean to say.

But for most people, I could say anything at all and I would be taken as an idiot’s utterance. Even if I stumbled across some of the greatest insights in the history of thought, I imagine it would play out like this:

Me: “One cannot step twice in the same river twice.”

Lazy Thinker: “Yes, you can, honey. Want me to show you?”

versus:

Heraclitus: “One cannot step twice in the same river twice.”

Lazy Thinker: “That sounds very zen. What does it mean?”

 

Or...

Me: “The only thing I know is that I know nothing.”

Lazy Thinker: “Don’t say that about yourself. Nobody knows nothing. Believe in yourself!”

versus

Socrates: “The only thing I know is that I know nothing.”

Lazy Thinker: “So humble! Such an inspiration.”

 

Or...

Me: “God is dead! And we have killed him.”

Lazy Thinker: “What are you talking about? God can’t be killed. If you read the Bible, it says that...”

versus

Nietzsche: “God is dead! And we have killed him.”

Lazy Thinker: “Wow, that’s super deep and edgy! Do explain.”

 

 

Or...

Me: “Man is condemned to be free.”

Lazy Thinker: “Uh, no. That’s a contradiction. What’s wrong with you?”

versus

Sartre: “Man is condemned to be free.”

Lazy Thinker: “What, really? How?”

 

 

Or...

Me: “The medium is the message.”

Lazy Thinker: “No, it isn’t. Allow me to explain to you the ways in which you are wrong...”

versus

McLuhan: “The medium is the message.”

Lazy Thinker: “It sounds like you know what you are talking about, so let me assume your competency and give you space to elucidate.”

I should more accurately title the “Lazy Thinker” as the Racist/Sexist thinker, because in case I haven’t hammered the point home, the laziness is stronger when the thoughts come from the mouth of someone in a place of power who perceives me unworthy of respect. Charitable interpretations require a certain level of faith in humans that even most philosophers don’t have towards women or people of color (see Nietzsche, Hegel, or Schopenhauer on sex or race).

So yeah, I guess I studied philosophy or something.

I was always the only black girl in class, often the only black or woman. I’m still thinking over what I got out of it, but I feel like I know enough about rationality and the history of thought that know that the history of thought is full of irrationality.

I feel a bit like an outsider to many conversations on intersectional feminism, because my entry point is capital-P Philosophy. But my identity requires me to investigate those issues, using tools not always designed for me. (In my heart of hearts, I believe that no true Utilitarian was ever racist, and they are my favorites school of thought, so.)

I would say something about how the master’s tools cannot dismantle the master’s house, but I don’t know enough context for that quote to use it correctly.