This is a guest post from Erin Wetzel. She is a artist who lives in Tacoma WA and homeschools her daughter. You can connect with her on instagram @ekwetzel.

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.

25 replies
  1. Kina
    Kina says:

    Hmm, I’d rather see a movie of homeschoolers who are also bootstrapping a business. Now that would be useful. Many of us don’t want to or simply can’t (for financial and personal reasons) just be stay at home parents who homeschool. This would be a cool perspective. Too bad Penelope’s TV show never got off the ground…

    • Karelys
      Karelys says:

      I’ve been dreaming up a series of interviews with families in such situations. For my own benefit and learning. But I think there’s value in sharing the conversations. So I just may.

    • Sarah N
      Sarah N says:

      That would be us. I started homeschooling in September of last year, and my husband got laid off in November. He immediately started his own company, and we’ve been noodling along ever since. Seeing a family in a similar situation would be very… helpful? Encouraging? Something along those lines.

      • Sarah M
        Sarah M says:

        Are you guys familiar with entrefamily.com? They are a homeschooling family of 7 who have many businesses and are also world-travelers (i.e. they travel part of the year with their 5 kids long term). They don’t have any videos that I’m aware of, but they do have a podcast where they interview other entrepreneurial families, many who homeschool.
        Sarah M

  2. Sarah M
    Sarah M says:

    I saw a trailer for this a long time ago and thought it’d be online by now, but thanks for the review. I’d still like to see it once it’s streaming, but I totally get where you’re coming from re: financial aspect. It’s sort of a double edged sword because we *choose* the lifestyle of homeschooling (therefore also choosing one income, or two smaller ones, or whatever, just less) and so when you struggle with finances people have no sympathy. That has been my feeling at times. We live within our means, but most people in our area can’t imagine having a family and renting a basement suite for the foreseeable future, like it’s beneath them. I’m just thankful I have minimal debt and we can save for a rainy day. Sigh. There are those days where I’d really like to just up and take a mega vacation with my friends, though.
    Sarah M

    • Amy K.
      Amy K. says:

      I haven’t seen the movie but, FWIW, my understanding is that it’s a divorce/blended family situation and that they renters, not homeowners.

  3. Emily
    Emily says:

    I haven’t seen the movie, either, but I’m just glad it doesn’t cast homeschooling in a negative light (at least according to what this review indicates). Maybe the movie is at least a good starting point for a conversation about homeschooling with others who are skeptical of homeschooling.

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      Emily, Those are my thoughts too!

      Erin, I’m confused a little by your negative review of the financial aspect of the main family. Did you need to find a negative part to balance? Or was it that glaringly obvious that it was geared for upper middle and up?

      • Erin
        Erin says:

        YesMyKidsAreSocialized –

        It’s funny how timing works out. I actually wrote this post back in December, before my recent posts about financial hardships.

        The whole time I was watching the film, I got the impression that the family was well off.

        I shared my feelings with Dustin, one of the filmmakers. He told me that many people who saw the film got the same impression, that the family was wealthy, and he took ownership of this misconception. Once I had a chance to discuss it with him, he explained that some of the scenes were shot in someone else’s house, that the town-home (that they rent) is in fact much smaller than it appears, and that the husband often takes the bus to work. Even though these things are true, a viewer would only know them if they had a chance to talk to the filmmaker (or read this post) so the impression that the film leaves on the viewer still stands.

        I liked this movie. It’s the kind of movie I’d show skeptical relatives or friends. It normalizes homeschooling, which I think it important. But it also leaves a lot of unanswered questions.

        I had a chance to ask Dustin and Jeremy (the two filmmakers) why they chose the family they did. They laughed. Jeremy wanted to follow 3 separate families, but there were budget restraints. This was just a small documentary, after all. The things that are lacking in the movie are not omitted maliciously, but because the filmmakers simply did the best with what resources they had available.

        I hope they are able to make more homeschooling movies, to delve deeper into more peoples’ experiences and share more facets of homeschooling/unschooling culture. I will watch any follow-up movies these guys put out in the future.

        ^_^ Erin

        • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
          YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

          I have worked on sets before, you should see how tiny the spaces actually are to work with. The angle of the camera makes the space look SO much bigger than what the actors are actually using. But you don’t know that as a layman.

          I am familiar with Jeremy, I have followed this project for awhile and I’m certain that he didn’t intend for it to seem like an unattainable fantasy. This documentary was about the freedom that homeschooling brings and helps get people to think about leaving school and trusting themselves with letting go. It interviews experts, and I think even our own Lisa Nielsen had a role to play in it.

          Ten years from now you should be in a different financial position and the film might be more relatable then. This family was established and not in their twenties. Hell, my income from then to now is laughable.

          • Karelys
            Karelys says:

            The more you know!

            When Erin talked about the bigger space it was shot in I immediately wondered if it was about fitting the crew and equipment in.

  4. YesMyKidsAreSocialized
    YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

    What was the name of the person who had to work and homeschool in the documentary? If it is who I think it is, then she has a book about it.

  5. Dustin Woodard
    Dustin Woodard says:

    I’m glad Erin was able to share her review here. Based off all the other reviews we’ve received thus far, I do suspect her own financial hardships may have played a role in perceiving the one negative she brings up.

    To set the record straight this family is not upper-class by any means. Much of the “decor” in the rented townhouse was created by the mom. Also, if Erin had a chance to see the movie again, she’d notice the dad actually steps into the passenger side of the mini-cooper, as he is being picked up by a co-worker.

    Kina might find it interesting that the dad DOES work for a bootstrapped startup with financial hardships.

    I do hope everyone gets a chance to see the movie for themselves.

    Here are some reviews from other attendees: http://www.homeschoolfilm.com/about-the-film/what-people-are-saying/

    • Karelys
      Karelys says:

      Hi Dustin! Thank you for stopping by! Looking forward to the movie.

      I’m amazed how popular (more than in the rest of the coutry it seems) homeschooling is in the northwest.

  6. Jeff T.
    Jeff T. says:

    From a “movement” point of view, it’s probably best that a semi-affluent family is shown.

    The adoption of something new usually starts with radicals and then the affluent who can afford it as a luxury.

    If they showed a bunch of hippies or anarchists living out of a converted school bus, they would only paint homeschooling as radicalized.

    IMO.

    I don’t know if they make them anymore, but in the eighties there used to be sit coms like Cosby Show, Family Ties, Home Improvement and others. Just imagine if they showed one of those affluent families homeschooling and having their wonderful times.

    (Disclosure: Haven’t seen the movie yet, hope to stream from Amazon soon)

    • Karelys
      Karelys says:

      I always think of that. I’m always in the search for people doing the things I do while being…normal. You know, wearing stuff from target and maybe not necessarily affluent but not living in the fringe of society.
      I’ve now come to understand that it happens when something is pretty mainstream. But also, I’ve found quite a few people who believe in things like safe births at home and Unschooling and they are just people who you wouldn’t think they do these things that go against the grain.
      Completely normal and boring and “nothing special” about them. And I just love that.

  7. Katie
    Katie says:

    I can’t wait to see the movie, I would love for this to be updated when it is avail online so I know to watch. Great courage for tackling a tough, mmulti-faceted topic! I don’t understand all the discussion about affluence however. Why the focus on wealth? You HS because you believe in it and prioritize it in spite of sacrifice. It shouldn’t make any difference whether other families are wealthy or otherwise. Including the one in the film. So what if he did drive an mc?! Should that impact our decision to HS? Do you suggest that if their life is financially easier than my life it doesn’t count? That it’s unfair? We never have the full picture of anyone’s life. Just say well done to them and get on with your convictions and do your best. So many people in the world would love to have what we have.

    • Karelys
      Karelys says:

      I think one part of the issue is everything you wrote. It drives me bonkers when people say “I would homeschool if my finances were better.” And I think, first off if it’s important enough you’ll do it and get it done. Second, it’s obvious that if you cannot live well within an entry level salary then you have bigger problems but also many more solutions. It’s just that you won’t want to take them. And that’s fine, but that’s a sign of were in the priority list homeschooling is.

      But it’s hard for me to say that because I always want to be encouraging to people. And I live in WA state in a small town. Here the minimum wage is very high and my town is amazingly low in cost of living. And it’s small enough that during lunch hour I could run to breastfeed my son when I paid a relative to watch him (he was like 8-9 months I think). It was hard but not impossible.

      But that really shows, that if you’re struggling so much with money that you can’t make it on one entry level salary you have options. Like moving. And if you don’t want to move because your family is too wonderful to leave then you should move with family. And rely more on each other to get life done. And if your family is like “wow we don’t want to help that much!” Then they’re probably a crapy family and you should feel free to move.

      Otherwise you’re the kind of person to wait around for permission to do things rather than going out and getting them yourself.

      I think the other part is that we want to see ourselves reflected in the documentary, book, or whatever story is being unfolded. Because when it gets really hard for us we have a visual that someone just like us got it done. That’s why it’s hard for some to understand why Penelope homeschools. They only see that she earns money from home and to some people that’s a lot of money. And a luxury to work from home (which really it isn’t. It’s just harder work.). I think I’d much prefer to make more money, enough to pay someone I trust to help with the kids and have the flexibility and autonomy over my time to decide when and where I’ll work. That would be a real luxury. Because trying to work from home with kids is nuts. You’re trying to do two very important jobs at the same time.

      Anyway, I think that’s why people get so hanged up in the financial aspect. I just try to find the nicest and most affirming things to say because if I say what I really think people would hate me. But I got to be a go getter by listening to assholes who won’t put up with mediocrity. Including Ryan Holiday. I put in to practice his very harsh criticism and I think I’ve become much better for it. But I’m not Ryan Holiday so in the meantime I think I’ll offer people cupcakes ;).

  8. Kristin
    Kristin says:

    There is absolutely nothing wrong with affluent people homeschooling. You make it sound like its a bad thing. I think it would be great to see a movie about affluent homeschoolers because it would make others like them feel they can do it too, which is what we want, right? it also makes it seem less “fringe.” I think it is actually more interesting to see an affluent person homeschooling because it is not what one would expect.

  9. Dana
    Dana says:

    I just moved to Austin, TX from the Washington DC metro area and I’ve noticed that there seems to be a large percentage of children being homeschooled here.

    I do think that homeschooling will become less of “luxury” for the wealthy but more of a necessity for many people particularly for parents of special needs kids, highly exceptional kids and kids of African American descent who do not want to see their kids unfairly disciplined.

    It’s getting to the point where people are writing their own stories of what is most important to them: Career or family/children.

    Hopefully, this film will shed some light on what choosing the road less travelled really looks like. Penelope already does a great job with this on her blog.

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