Homeschooling is a counter-cultural movement. Although it is gaining momentum with each passing year, there is still a stigma associated with it. Homeschoolers are too often perceived as educational cultists, weirdos who hide from mainstream culture, oddballs who don’t engage in any meaningful way with the conversations and values of the communities around them.
Class Dismissed is a new documentary which restructures the conversation around homeschooling. It shares the story of how one American family left behind standardized education in search of a learning experience better suited for each child’s unique interests and goals. The film gives a candid portrayal of how the family explores alternatives to the public school system, including a “deschooling” process, charter schools, mentoring, and classical conversations, among other homeschooling approaches.
I attended the Seattle screening for the film. Rachel is the mom in the film. Sitting in the theater, I empathized with her worries about pulling Ana and Lily out of mainstream school. Were they doing the right thing? Would she be able to teach and guide her kids? Did they even have a right to make such a radical shift in the girls’ education? How would they make sure the kids were not missing out on important opportunities? Rachel was frank and open about her insecurities and fears, and that honesty connected me with her. Watching her work out the drama of adjusting to the minutia of practical homeschooling helped me understand my own concerns about abandoning the traditional school system with my kid.
If there is one problem with the movie, it is choosing to follow the journey of an idealistic American family. Their homeschooling lifestyle itself takes on an air of idealism, leaving me with the impression that homeschooling is a luxury that only the privileged can afford. Homeschooling ends up seeming impractical and out of reach for most of us.
This family lives in a nice suburban neighborhood, which they ironically had chosen for its “terrific public schools.” They eat breakfast out of Anthropologie bowls in a modern, spacious kitchen. Their décor is trendy, bohemian, beautiful. They discuss how they are having a tough financial time, then the husband leaves for work in a Mini Cooper convertible.
I’m not upset that this family has nice things or that they can afford a certain lifestyle. What irks me is the financial problems they complained about were superficial at best, while there are many people—including me—who are trying to figure out how to make homeschooling feasible while surviving on a limited income. As young families, many of my peers barely make enough to get by. So, how can we afford to implement homeschooling in a practical way? It sometimes feels impossible.
Early on in the film, there is a section where a dozen or so different homeschoolers discuss how they make homeschooling work. There is one lady, a single mom, who says, “You can create a customized situation that fits any family. I had to do it, and I thought ‘I can’t homeschool, I’m a single mom, that’s impossible, how could I possible do that?’ If you open up your mind a little bit, there are resources available to you and your family that you might not even know that you have.” I wanted to hear more of HER story. I wanted to hear how she figured it out, because I felt like I could learn from her experience and apply it to my own life.
The camera never returned to her, leaving an unanswered question that nagged me for the rest of the film.
There were many great aspects to the film: an overview of homeschooling and unschooling in 20th century America, analysis of the history of public school and its impact on American culture, interviews with experts like John Taylor Gatto and Blake Boles, plus many kids, parents, and bloggers who provide a comprehensive view of education in America today.
Our culture idealizes the trendy, suburban American family—sitcoms are full of them—where most problems are trivial and fleeting. Maybe in showing such an idealistic family tackle such a counter-cultural movement, “Class Dismissed” is the perfect movie for opening the conversation about the merits of stepping away from public school. This trendy family is a good poster child for how the homeschooling movement can become mainstream. So watch it. Share it. Talk about it.
HOW CAN YOU WATCH CLASS DISSMISSED
The filmmakers will be visiting many more cities, and all hosted events will be listed here: http://classdismissedmovie.com/see-the-film/private-screenings/ plus there are hundreds of community or group screenings hosted by those who bought screener packs: http://classdismissedmovie.com/see-the-film/screener-pack/. The regular DVD and online streaming versions will become available after the theater run is over.