the best friends you’ll never have

In general, I like the Kishis as a family. They always seemed to eat delicious family dinners together, and there are some nice moments, like when Claudia and her dad are doing yardwork together in The Mystery at Claudia’s House. But there is one thing that really bugs me, and it’s their attitude toward Claudia and her schoolwork.

Not that they threaten to make her drop out of the Baby-Sitters Club. Frankly, I think they should have; it ate up an enormous amount of time. The whole being-held-back/going-back-to-eighth-grade thing was on SMS’s shoulders. But the fact that they let her struggle so long in school without doing anything except sometimes making her go to the Resource Room and having her family help her with her homework. They do finally get her a tutor in Claudia Kishi, Middle School Dropout, but it’s too little, too late. Stamford Alternative Academy was a great place for her academically, but I understand why they pulled her out when it made her miserable.

It is just so strange to me that the series emphasizes that Claudia doesn’t have a learning disorder, that she is of above-average intelligence, and that she is just lazy. Yes, Claudia doesn’t have dyslexia. But her problems at school could easily fall under Learning Disorder Not Otherwise Specified, if nothing else:

May have difficulty forming a plan for their writing
May read at a slower pace than peers
May rely entirely on auditory information from class
May have difficulty organizing or synthesizing information from text
May demonstrate poor comprehension of written materials
May be reluctant to participate or read out loud in class
May have difficulty picturing mechanical processes or concepts
May lose track of time easily
May be unable to do mental math
May have difficulty identifying the critical information for solving word problems
May have difficulty visualizing patterns
May have difficulty performing steps in proper order
May have difficulty understanding spatial concepts
May have difficulty drawing or understanding diagrams
May have difficulty understanding and applying math vocabulary

My brother has a learning disorder, and he underwent a lot of testing in the second grade and then we had a Occupational Therapist come to our house every week. He went to our school’s equivalent of the Resource Room in middle school. I don’t see how in the world the Kishis didn’t do more for Claudia and didn’t have her undergo testing to figure out what exactly is going on with her, and what can be done to give her the tools to make school easier for her. I would think that it would be their main priority, and that they would do all they could to help her.

The other thing I don’t understand is why the series was so insistent that Claudia didn’t have a learning disorder and that she was just an underachiever. I feel like the series missed a big chance to discuss this issue, which I am sure many of the BSC’s readers were going through at the time, in a way that is more substantial than Buddy Barrett or Shea Rodowsky having dyslexia. Then her Chapter 2 could invoke that instead of “LOL no one can read Claudia’s notebook entries.”

I think this may be the decision made in the series that I understand least of all. Anybody can see that the way Claudia was spelling in eighth grade was normal, and when they showed her thought process in school, I feel like it was even written like she has a learning disorder. Claudia isn’t even actually written as a lazy student; she is written as a student who is struggling and not getting the support she needs. If I could change something about the series, this would be it.

10 Responses To This Post

Subscribe to this post comment rss or trackback url
Jess said, July 23rd, 2014 at 6:26 pm

Oh my goodness, I could not agree more. I feel like I’m taking a fictional character’s life way too seriously, but this really, REALLY bothers me. They totally failed in utilizing a fantastic opportunity to really explore a learning disorder. My question is, why was Ann so hesitant to do so? Did she think an actual, diagnosed problem with one of the girls would make us think less of her? Or did she just prefer to keep Claudia’s problem “lighter” and “sillier” for comedy fodder?

greer said, July 25th, 2014 at 9:15 am

@Jess haha, yes, i get all caught up in worrying about Claudia’s self-esteem and then I realize she’s fictional.

I have no idea why Ann and her editors decided to go that route. That’s definitely one of the questions I’d like to ask. Next time there’s a twitter hangout with Ann, I will definitely ask that.

myu said, July 27th, 2014 at 2:03 pm

I definitely agree with this. It always seemed a bit bizarre that Claudia seemed to have clear signs of learning difficulties, but they kept insisting that that wasn’t the case.

I think I read once upon a time that having Claudia being lazy when it comes to schoolwork was deliberately to get away from the ‘Asian kids are overachievers’ stereotype, but I can’t remember if that was from a reliable source (I’m about 80% sure it wasn’t just fan theory).

I find Abby much more realistic in terms of just not being bothered about school and only doing enough to get by or falling behind at some point (as in ‘Abby’s Lucky Thirteen’). It’s actually one of the aspects of Abby’s character I like a lot.

greer said, July 27th, 2014 at 3:16 pm

@myu I feel like if that is true, they could have done a better job of making the Kishis’ focus on academics not conform to the stereotype. And having Claudia have a learning disorder wouldn’t ruin what they were trying to do.

I do definitely prefer Abby as a realistic model of an underachiever.

Elizabeth said, August 5th, 2014 at 9:00 pm

Oh man, years and years later and this STILL drives me crazy. Of course, I assume that the series’ insistence that Claudia didn’t have a learning disoder WAS the reason that the Kishis didn’t do more.

My best guess, after reading some of AMM’s other work, is that this allowed them to not have to worry too much about keeping things consistent between the ghostwriters, even within the same book. There are notebook entries where Claudia misspells easy words but spells difficult words correctly, OR where she switches from a misspelling in one sentence to the correct spelling in the next sentence (or vice versa). I don’t think anyone was thinking over the notebook entries that far; I figure the misspellings and crossouts are just supposed to be for comedic “haha look what a bad student Claudia is” effect. So not having to lay down rules like “Claudia always has trouble with b and d but not p and q” made for quicker, easier writing. Also, I wonder if they didn’t want to get too specific about which learning disability she might have. This is something I’ve thought about after reading the Main Street books (and A Corner of the Universe, to some degree) — Willow’s mom is clearly supposed to have OCD, but she is also depicted with signs of bipolar or borderline personality disorder at times. I get that a person can have more than one mental/emotional disorder at a time, but it always seemed like they were not diagnosing Mrs. Hamilton just so they didn’t get written into a corner with only allowing her to show certain types of disturbances (or, in Claudia’s case, with always having to consistently show the same struggles).

greer said, August 6th, 2014 at 9:41 am

@Elizabeth But Claudia’s school situation has been the same since the very beginning, when Ann didn’t know that the series would go beyond four books and that they would eventually use ghostwriters. In fact, I think it would have been easier for ghostwriters to have had a list of specific ways that this particular learning disability will manifest itself.

It’s especially baffling for me since Ann has an education background. Maybe the Kishis were in denial? Maybe they didn’t want Claudia to know she had a diagnosis?

Eowyn said, September 4th, 2014 at 2:14 am

Apparently Claudia being depicted as a poor student was Ann wanting to go contrary to the “Asians are smart” stereotype. If Claudia were to have a learning disorder it might have been interpreted as Ann dodging the reality that not all Asian are studious and the only reason Claudia has bad grades is because of something she couldn’t control.

greer said, September 4th, 2014 at 5:24 am

@eowyn, yes, myu said the same thing above. I would love to see a citation of this.

Eowyn said, September 4th, 2014 at 3:53 pm

If I’m not mistaken it was in the biography Scholastic published of Ann about twenty years ago. Also take in mind considering that Janine was a genius it would have seemed cruel to have the other Kishi sister struggling because of a learning disablity.

greer said, September 4th, 2014 at 4:21 pm

@eowyn: I think it’s more cruel to just have Claudia struggle, fail, get sent back to 7th grade, etc. With a learning disorder, they could have had a concrete plan of how to help Claudia succeed in school.

I have that book at my mom’s house somewhere; will have to search for it when I’m there next week!

Response To This Topic

Please Note: The comment moderation may be active so there is no need to resubmit your comment