Study Guide

Where the Red Fern Grows Education

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"Don't you go to school at all?"

"Sure I go to school."


"At home." (4.62-65)

For Billy, home and school are the one and the same. Clearly this is before the whole homeschooling revival, because the boys in town think this is stupid enough to pick a fight over.

I knew the stories I had heard about marshals weren't true. Never again would I be scared when I saw one. (5.87)

Check it out: informal education, broadening minds. Billy is already beginning to revise his assumptions about town people, but he's not doing it through books—it's direct experience.

"A man's children should have an education. They should get out and see the world and meet people." (6.60)

Well, gee whiz. That's just what Billy did: he went out into the world, met some people, and learned a few things. So maybe Billy's dad isn't necessarily talking about education in school.

"There's more to an education than just reading and writing," Papa said. "Much more." (6.62)

Sure, like knowing how to play on a playground; being able to name your favorite kind of soda; and not being afraid of the cops. (Unless you really should be afraid of the cops, not that any of you Shmoopers would be.)

"I don't want you children to grow up without an education, not even knowing what a bottle of soda pop is, or ever seeing the inside of a schoolhouse." (6.65)

We can think of a few modern-day parents who would be thrilled if their kids grew up without ever knowing what soda pop was. But we get the point—these kids may have learned to read and write, but they don't know nearly enough to navigate a larger world.

"Now you do everything exactly as I tell you," he said, "and you'll catch that coon." (7.10)

Billy's life is full of teachers, even if none of them have degrees. Here, his grandfather passes on a little wisdom about how to catch raccoons.

"That's what I came down here for. I'll show you how to keep that coon in the tree." (9.11)

Grandpa should write a book, because he seems to know everything about catching coons. And guess what? It works. He teaches Billy practical skills as well as moral lessons about not giving up. But we doubt Billy uses many of these lessons in his office these days.

I felt my father's hand on my shoulder. Looking at me, he smiled and nodded his head. Papa and I knew I had judged the coon perfectly. (16.126)

What we have here is a classic "student becoming the teacher" moment. It looks like Billy might be able to teach a thing or two, these days.

Right then I didn't care about coons, gold cups, or anything. All I wanted was my dogs. (17.64)

Billy is learning something that you can't learn in fancy schools: what's really important in life. For all that his parents seem so obsessed with getting some book-learning in the kid, Where the Red Fern Grows really emphasizes the importance of life experience.

"You know how your mother has prayed that some day we'd have enough money to move out of these hills and into town so that you children could get an education." (19.174)

Obviously Billy is going to be totally thrilled about leaving the only home he's ever known to go to a town full of jerky boy and mean girls, where he gets to sit in a classroom all day. Right? Right??

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