An HEM Interview between filmmaker Jeremy Stuart and HEM’s editor, Barb Lundgren, published in HEM’s September-October 2014 issue
From home study and kitchen table math, to perpetual recess and park days, Class Dismissed follows the story of an ordinary American family in their quest to educate their children outside the school system.
As they struggle to discover what path is best for them, the social ramifications of their choices come to light, family dynamics are revealed and they come to realize that homeschooling is not just an educational choice, but also a lifestyle choice that affects the very heart of their family.
Truth and consequence, myth and assumption all come together in this fresh look at what it means to be educated in the 21st century.
As an editor, Jeremy’s involvement in the television and film industry has spanned over 20 years. He has worked on hundreds of music videos, commercials, and corporate projects, as well as award winning documentaries and short films.
Some of his clients have included Lucasfilm, National Geographic Channel, Discovery Channel, Yamaha, Virgin America, Sony Playstation, Dave Matthews Band, Acura and the Smithsonian Channel.
He is also the proud father of an unschooled 9 year-old daughter.
What propelled you to make a film about home education?
As my own family began our foray into the world of home education it became clear to me from the response we got from friends and strangers alike, that most people, despite many of them being dissatisfied with the current educational model, felt like they had no choice about their children’s education. They weren’t aware that they had options and if they did, they had no idea how to begin. Also at that time, there were a couple of documentaries about education that were making the rounds, Waiting for Superman, and Race to Nowhere, both of which I’d seen and both of which I’d been disappointed in for their failure to present alternatives to conventional schooling. Why was nobody talking about alternatives? Why were people so willing to just go with convention despite it being so clearly broken? I felt also that there was much misunderstanding in the general public about home education, so I decided to make a documentary about it to challenge their assumptions and to highlight the fact that children who learn outside the classroom can be successful.
What is Class Dismissed about? What happens in the film?
Class Dismissed is a film about learning outside of the traditional classroom. It highlights several approaches to homeschooling as well as unschooling, or self-directed learning. Because there is so much misunderstanding about what homeschooling or unschooling is about, I felt it would be necessary to show the process so we put out a casting call, looking for a family who were about to pull their kids from school to try educating them in other ways. We got close to a hundred responses from all over the country and after much consideration, narrowed it down to a family in Los Angeles who were about to pull their two girls (11 and 14 at the time) from one of the best public schools in the area. We then spent a year and a half following their journey as they struggled to find their footing in this new lifestyle. The film is very much their personal story, but it’s also a story that I’m sure many of us who are already homeschooling or unschooling can relate to. I think those who are on the fence about home education will find it helpful to watch the family’s journey unfold. Choosing to educate your kids outside of a conventional school is a process of trial and error and constant evolution. It’s a process that requires extraordinary trust and a willingness to undo much of our own conditioning about how children learn, and an understanding of how as parents we support or hinder that process. In addition to the main family, we’ve interviewed many long-time home educators, unschoolers, authors, experts and families and have woven their stories and insight into the film. We also spent some time filming at a home education resource center in Portland, Oregon called Village Home that on the surface looks like a school, but functions in an entirely different way.
What was your own schooling experience like?
Like most of us I went through traditional schooling. In my middle school years in England I was a good student in that I followed the rules, got good grades and generally enjoyed school. Then when it got time for high school everything changed when I was asked to select the subjects I wanted to study for the next four years. I was very interested in the arts, particularly music, but I wanted to take fine art as well. “Sorry, not allowed,” I was told. Music was already one of the arts, so I couldn’t do both. Then I wanted to take Biology, but was informed that I had to also take Physics or Chemistry. I wasn’t interested in either, but chose Physics and hated it. I felt like one door after another was being slammed shut in my face and I quickly realized that I actually had no voice and no say in what I wanted to learn.
My response was to rebel and sabotage my education. I was unwilling to play by their rules. I sat and filled in bubble sheets without even reading the questions and left high school the second I could legally get out the door. Since then, my education has been conducted entirely on my own terms. Everything I’ve learned as an adult I learned because I wanted to, but more importantly because I was passionate about it. But I’ve always felt that it should have been this way from the beginning.
Naturally, my parents were dismayed by this approach, at least initially. But I had set my heart on a career in music and soon I was touring the world as a professional drummer and making good money and they relaxed and realized I was probably going to be okay. When I was 21, I left England and moved to Los Angeles to continue pursuing my music career but instead became interested in the film industry, particularly editing. I talked my way into several jobs that gave me access to equipment and resources and set about teaching myself everything I needed to know about the art of editing film and within a couple of years I was editing big name music videos and commercials. The thought of going to film school never even entered my mind. I was having far too much fun, making mistakes, flying by the seat of my pants and learning on the job.
Are you homeschooling your daughter? Or unschooling? Give us a brief look at your own evolution with that and what your family life is like.
I didn’t know anything about homeschooling at all when my daughter was born. Even though my own experience with school had been so disappointing, I assumed that our daughter Kaia would go to school just like everybody else. Like most people, I didn’t realize there were other choices. We were attachment parenting and my wife took the lead in beginning discussions about how we were going to educate her. We read a couple of books by John Holt and when Kaia was two years old we attended the Homeschool Association of California (HSC) Conference in Sacramento, California to fact gather and find out what this whole homeschooling thing was all about. It was interesting to hear various speakers and long time homeschoolers share their experiences, but what completely sold me was the kids. I had never met kids who were so full of life and curiosity and so comfortable with themselves and those around them. If these kids, teens, and young adults were the result of homeschooling then I was ready to sign up. When it came time for Kaia to go to school, it became really clear that we should just continue what we were doing, essentially just living and learning together as a family. We’ve never followed any curriculum or prescribed method but prefer to follow what Kaia is interested in, assisting and supporting her in whatever way we can. For the past nine years, it’s been working well for us and we’ve never looked back.
What have you learned about homeschooling in the process of making the film?
One thing that stands out for me is how incredibly diverse the home education community is. I’ve talked to parents and families from every rung of the socio-economic ladder, families with multiple kids, single parents, people from religious or secular backgrounds, families who use structured curriculum to those who use none or prefer radical unschooling. Choosing to home educate is not something that can be pinned down and categorized so easily and that is so inspiring, because it shows that on the most basic level, home education is about freedom, family and the right to choose how we raise our children, and live our lives.
Making the film has largely been a community experience and that’s the other aspect that has been so powerful. So many people have come forward in support of the project at every stage of the process. Some donated money, some offered advice or gave freely of their time and expertise, and without them I could never have made this film. I’m deeply grateful to the homeschooling and unschooling community for their unwavering support. This is as much their film as it is mine and I hope I’ve done the topic justice.
What are your goals for the film?
I want the film to stir up dialogue around the topic of home education, persuade people to re-think their notions of what homeschooling is about, and to consider other possibilities for learning outside the classroom. I envision Class Dismissed as a wake up call that education has been in crisis for a long time and it’s time to confront long-standing assumptions about what it means to be educated in the 21st Century.
I want the film to speak to ordinary people, regardless of political or religious affiliations, who may not be aware that they have options when it comes to educating their children, and to show that those options are within reach for most people.
After watching the film, I want the audience to feel moved to do something, to find out more about the information presented in the film, and to walk away with their hearts and minds opened to the prospect of new possibilities for themselves and their families.
When will the film be finished and where can we see it?
We’re in the final stretch of post-production and if all goes according to plan, the film will be finished later this year. We’ll begin with a series of independent theater screenings at venues across the country and we’ll be reaching out to the homeschooling community to help with organizing screenings and inviting people who would benefit from seeing the film. We’ll also submit the film to a few select film festivals, and of course at some point it will be available on DVD and as a digital download. In addition to the film, we’re going to make available a series of extended interviews that we did with advocates and experts for those who want to dig deeper into the subject.
We’re really looking forward to sharing the film with the community and the public at large. To get involved and to get all the latest news on the film, including screening dates, information about how to organize a screening in your area/community or order DVDs etc., people should visit the official website at www.ClassDismissedMovie.com
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