Class Dismissed: My Review

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Last week, I had the opportunity to view Class Dismissed: A Film About Learning Outside the Classroom.  From their website, “Class Dismissed showcases a growing trend in alternative education strategies that are working for many families across America.”

Indeed.

Since I am speaking from the position of a public school teacher (for the better part of fourteen years now), rendering special needs services in a private setting, I can say that my opinion of this movie might surprise some of my readers.  There also exists the possibility that I’ll edit and revise my review as time goes on, since I’ve only seen the movie once, but I’m planning to host a viewing myself – so next time I may see something new.

Class Dismissed is a 90-minute documentary that follows a Los Angeles family as they navigate their approach to homeschooling their 13 and 11 year-old daughters.  They arrived at the decision to homeschool due to some of the changes they were seeing in their daughter’s attitudes, a growing dissatisfaction with their public school system (for the record, they were sending their children to the El Segundo school district, purported as one of the best in the Los Angeles area), and from being flat-out asked by their older daughter to try homeschooling.  With a healthy dose of both trepidation and excitement, the parents agree to start homeschooling, only to find they are frustrated and not sure where to begin or what path to follow.  Initially, they were excited about the change, but as time wore on, the long-lived expectation of needing to do school wore on them.  They ended up enrolling in an independent-learning charter school, which allowed them to continue homeschooling and provided some much-needed funding for extracurricular activities, but soon learned that this option didn’t work very well for them, either – as it was just busywork and paperwork.  After about a year of attempting to homeschool according to a set of rules, schedules, and curriculum, the family finally decides on a path that’s more suited to their needs and ultimately, “lets go” of the rigid expectations they set forth in the beginning of their journey.  In the end, their older daughter (at 14 years old) is volunteering at a local marine life center and studying to pursue a profession of the same, and the younger daughter (age 12) is pursuing gymnastics and paying for it through running her own business.  Everyone is happy, everyone is pursuing their passions, and everyone is learning.  Yes, books are involved.

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What I ultimately feel this movie does for both homeschooling and traditional schooling is dispel any rumors about what homeschool families actually do – what they go through, the decisions they make, and the way homeschooling really works.  Which, by the way, isn’t the same for every family – or even the same for each child in a family.

The movie also touches on other forms of alternative learning, such as unschooling, the classical curriculum, and alternative learning centers, such as The Village Home, as featured in the movie.  There are a few “heavy hitters” featured in the movie, such as John Taylor Gatto, Michelle Barone,  Pat Farenga, Linda Dobson, Blake Boles, and  the amazing Dale J. Stephens, which I feel increases the film’s credibility as these education professionals know their stuff and have made successful careers from their alternative approach to education and learning.

Class Dismissed is a fascinating look at alternative forms of education, and gives both ideas and rejuvenation to those who may be dissatisfied with the traditional schooling system in our country.  Class Dismissed has been released at a time when the debate over the validity of Common Core is hot, and teacher accountability is a sore subject.  It couldn’t have come at a better time – especially since the rise in homeschooling interest has soared over the past 15 years from approximately 850,000 homeschoolers in the year 2000, to more than 1.7 million homeschoolers in 2011, with the numbers still growing in the past 3 years.*

I feel that anyone who is currently homeschooling, is “homeschool-curious,” or is involved in any facet of education (including public and private school teachers), should see this movie.  It’s informative, encouraging, and proves one thing for sure:  the homeschoolers know what they’re doing.

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*National Center for Educational Statistics

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Killer Whales and Kids

With the holidays in full swing (yes, even now in January we continue to celebrate several things), and my house full of family, food, and fun, there isn’t much time to write. But I happened upon this article again while “cleaning out” my phone today:  A Thousand Rivers by Carol Black.

It is something I will be thinking about as we enter the new year, especially with my daughter showing signs of reading and math readiness.  And if you are an educator, a parent, a student, a homeschooling parent/student, or a human being in general, I urge you read this excerpt:

“Any wildlife biologist knows that an animal in a zoo will not develop normally if the environment is incompatible with the evolved social needs of its species. But we no longer know this about ourselves. We have radically altered our own evolved species behavior by segregating children artificially in same-age peer groups instead of mixed-age communities, by compelling them to be indoors and sedentary for most of the day, by asking them to learn from text-based artificial materials instead of contextualized real-world activities, by dictating arbitrary timetables for learning rather than following the unfolding of a child’s developmental readiness. Common sense should tell us that all of this will have complex and unpredictable results. In fact, it does. While some children seem able to function in this completely artificial environment, really significant numbers of them cannot. Around the world, every day, millions and millions and millions of normal bright healthy children are labelled as failures in ways that damage them for life. And increasingly, those who cannot adapt to the artificial environment of school are diagnosed as brain-disordered and drugged.

It is in this context that we set out to research how human beings learn. But collecting data on human learning based on children’s behavior in school is like collecting data on killer whales based on their behavior at Sea World.”

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