There are plenty of stereotypes for non-schoolers: when I was little, I heard stuff about how we couldn’t tie our shoes, couldn’t do basic things, as though you had to go to school to learn those things. The kids in my Hebrew school class asked me if my family had a microwave. If we drove around in a buggy. You know, like Amish people. If you didn’t go to school, you were backwoods and primitive. A little later on, the stereotype was the math genius who couldn’t socialize. Some prodigy who got into Harvard at fourteen, but had never had a friend. And then there was the idea of the plain old weirdo. Kids who just couldn’t fit in, ever, because they were too far gone. Sometimes this was supposed to be endearing, like in Jerry Spinelli’s Stargirl, where the homeschooled heroine marches into the high school cafeteria wearing a princess costume (or something like it, I can’t remember exactly), strumming her ukulele every day. Or in Tina Fey’s movie Mean Girls, which I watched with the rest of the girls in my college class at freshman orientation, where the homeschooled protagonist wears unfashionable clothes and doesn’t understand the all-important politics of high school cliques because she’s been off in Africa with her parents. In so many depictions of homeschoolers, we are these blank spaces that need to be filled in. These collections of obliviousness—as though school is truly where you must go to become a whole person, even if that means dealing with some seriously mean girls along the way.
Read Kate’s full article on unschooling stereotypes in our March-April issue. Subscribe.