Thursday, December 18, 2014
Last week I had the pleasure of screening the documentary, Class Dismissed. I didn’t know much about it, just that it explored education reform. That was reason enough for me to call for a dinner and a movie. Once we arrived I became a little concerned. The theater was filled with families – not the normal documentary crowd on a weekday night. It turns out the movie is not just about education reform, but specifically about homeschooling as an answer. It seems that the local homeschooling community is a tight-knit bunch and they showed up in force to support this film.
Taken in conjunction with Waiting for Superman and Race to Nowhere, we have three very interesting and somewhat contrasting looks at what is wrong with American education today, but three different solutions. Class Dismissed introduces us to a few issues that some people have with school as we know it – a focus on grades and test scores at the expense of authentic learning, an inflexibility with the variety of children and their learning styles and interests, and modes of instruction and curriculum suited for a by-gone industrial era. The film introduces us to John Holt, a critic of mainstream education from the 1970s. Listening to old interviews with him, I found many of his complaints are the same as mine, a generation later. While I would like to see schools change, Holt’s solution was to withdraw from “schooling” and home-school.
I am guilty of many assumptions about home schooling. Kids will lack social skills. Colleges will not know what to do with them, if they can even get admitted. Instruction, if any, will lack depth and challenge. Kids will not know how to work hard because parents will go easy and instruction will look like play time. Parents lack the content knowledge to appropriately instruct kids at higher levels. Class Dismissed took each of these concerns and dismantled each and every one rather convincingly.
Following a Los Angeles family through their homeschooling process, the film introduces us to a few models for homeschooling, honestly exploring potential failures of each and acknowledging that there is no perfect model (and isn’t that just the point?). By following one family for two years, we also get to see that some models work for a time but that as kids mature, some models become ineffective.
In the end I must confess, I am now much more open to the possibility of home schooling. However, it certainly is not a solution for the masses. I continue to struggle with how most families could manage this in the current economy. How many families can make ends meet on one income? Let’s face it, home schooling is a full time job that does not provide any income.
Homeschooling does have something to teach the rest of us, though. When we try to figure out individualization, learning styles, exploratory learning, constructivism and other “outside the box” ideas, we should open our minds and see what the home schooling community is up to. They are pooling resources, experimenting, and exploring – and they have something useful to share.
If you are concerned about the state of education and looking at solutions, either as a parent or an educator, do yourself a favor and see Class Dismissed. You will be provoked.