Thursday, December 18, 2014

Class Dismissed, Homeschooling Explored

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. 


Anonymous said...

We've been homeschooling for 10 years and I run a large homeschool organization in my state. I would agree with you that homeschooling is not a solution for the masses. We don't intend it to be. It is simply the right choice for our family. My oldest is in college and I can tell you that colleges actively seek out homeschoolers. As far as managing on once income, there are sacrifices to make. There are sacrifices with any choice we make for our families and children. Mostly we now live within our means and homeschoolers are quite adept at making it work on one income. We are masters of budgets and managing everything from bills to groceries to curriculum purchases to vacations. For anyone who thinks it can't be done because they can't survive on one salary, I would advise them to talk to some homeschoolers to see how it's done.

Lua Wells said...

I'm always happy when someone who had misconceptions about what homeschooling is, gains a greater understanding of what it can be. I'm especially happy when that someone is actively involved in education, and will hopefully discuss these ideas with his or her colleagues. So thank you for attending this film with an open mind. I too watched Waiting for Superman, and, while it shone a light on the many problems with the current school system, it seemed to lack substantive ideas for making real improvements.

I think homeschoolers, and especially unschoolers, are modelling a different and more effective way to educate kids. Traditional schools could make dramatic changes for the better by adapting unschooling principles.

Katie said...

I've been homeschooling my kids since the beginning -- my oldest is in 6th grade.

Some people move to cheaper areas to live (realize, if you homeschool you don't have to live in the areas with the "good schools"). Some people learn to do without a lot of things. Some people eat out less, or have the time to shop smarter and cook more. You don't need to pay for day care or after care or coordinate any of that stuff.

I'm one of many homeschooling parents who also works part time. One year I worked a steady 20-25 hours a week with 1.5 days in the office and the rest from home. Other times I've worked as an independent contractor, with less regular hours... but always on my time from home. I know other people who work nights and/or weekends as nurses or other such jobs. These days there are a lot of ways to pick up extra money. :)

As you may have noticed in the film (I haven't seen it yet) homeschooling doesn't take nearly as long as regular school. In the early years, we got done in 1-2 hours... and as kids get older, they can do more work independently, and need a parent more to guide and help instead of give direct instruction. I can work while my son does math, or while my daughter reads to her little sister. :)

It certainly isn't for everyone, but I think it works for a wider variety of people than you think.

Also, school doesn't work for a rather large variety of people. My family is full of people who are "2e" or twice excetional. That is, they are intellectually gifted, but also have learning/behavioral/etc disabilities. Schools do have trouble serving kids like that (understandably!) and fighting to get them an appropriate education is at least as much work (and much less joy!) than just keeping them home to learn. :)

Suki Wessling said...

I'm glad to hear that the film made you more open to homeschooling! However, I have to correct something in your post: many, many homeschoolers work. Although you didn't know it from watching the film, a number of the people interviewed were working homeschoolers. I am one myself. It's not necessarily easy, and requires flexibility, but you're right, many families need two incomes. The ones who do without often find creative ways to save, though. For example, lots of homeschoolers forego cable TV, which most families don't think of as a luxury. They use their library cards heavily, and perhaps have only one car. Once you start questioning the unquestioned parts of our modern lifestyle, you see that two incomes aren't really required if you get creative and are willing to accept a little hardship for a good cause. That said, of course homeschooling isn't for everyone... but neither is school!