In a Common Core world where education is driven by college and career readiness mandates, incessant testing, and social and emotional learning, one independent filmmaker tackles the education establishment in a new documentary, Self-Taught, which zeroes in on how home school kids turn out, explores what defines “success,” and bucks the narrative pounded into parents’ heads that children cannot thrive outside the conventional institutionalized school system.
The documentary marks filmmaker Jeremy Stuart’s second foray into examining the growing home school trend. His 2014 piece, Class Dismissed, chronicled the journey of a Los Angeles area family, disenchanted with public education’s increasing standardization, teaching to the test, insurmountable mounds of homework, and the resulting burn-out. It led them to pull their two daughters out of the El Segundo Unified School District and navigate the unknown terrain of homeschooling. The film was well-received. It screened in the U.S. and in more than 10 countries.
Where Class Dismissed asked “what happens when a family takes their education into their own hands?,” Self-Taught focuses on now-adult children educated at home and how they developed. The film questions how society defines “success,” a word increasingly hijacked to mean “high achieving” within the confines of education standardization and workforce training mandates.
Stuart spoke to Breitbart Texas about the intent of his new project, underscoring the predominant question parents of homeschooled and unschooled children hear from the world around them is–How will your kids turn out as adults if they don’t receive a “traditional” education?
The filmmaker noted public education broadcasts a message to families if they deviate from established educational norms, questioning how their children will get into college if they choose to attend, get a job, or start their own businesses. How will they be successful in life?
“Society has a very narrow definition of what that word means, usually going something like this: do well in school, get a college degree, then get a ‘good’ job making lots of money and you’re considered a success story,” he told Breitbart Texas, adding, “Actually the system doesn’t tell homeschoolers, it tells all of us that we need to conform to certain rules in order to be successful, and this is particularly enforced in a school setting.”
Also a home school parent, Stuart finds that definition of success “limited and unrealistic.” He stated, “I think that because self-directed learners are by nature, curious and intrinsically motivated, their definitions of success will be more broad and interesting.”
In Class Dismissed, Stuart featured a family to “step outside the system.” Those who do “find out pretty quickly there are many paths to success and homeschoolers, unschoolers and self-directed learners have shown that to be the case over and over again,” said Stuart. “I think the myth exists purely to perpetuate the status quo and justify the existence of the government school system.”
Terms like “self-directed learning” and “unschooling” are often misunderstood outside the home school community. Breitbart Texas sought clarification from education expert Resa Steindel Brown, author of the acclaimed The Call to Brilliance and co-founder of Passion-Oriented EducationTM, which helps parents and educators identify and cultivate children’s learning interests and passions. She defined “self-directed” as a learning style that follows the innate inquisitiveness and curiosity of a child in a parent led setting. “It has been the successful cornerstone of Montessori education for over 100 years,” said Brown.
She explained “unschooling” as a technique where parents help their children “unlearn less-than-optimal school-learned behaviors to regain the internal motivation, creativity, and passion they had before entering school.”
Stuart’s goal in making Self-Taught is to answer the many questions people have about home education by highlighting several adults who were homeschooled, unschooled, or, as he stated “otherwise given the freedom to pursue their own educational interests and passions in a self-directed way.” The film will also explore how these individuals measure their success, and if they feel their non-traditional education helped or hindered them as adults.
“We will immerse ourselves in their daily activities to see how they make a living, and how they feel about it,” said Stuart. “Many homeschoolers likely started out in a school setting, although some may never have set foot in the traditional classroom, he noted, also indicating others may have gone to college despite foregoing the traditional K-12 education. He said, “Because I’m highlighting adults, some of them undoubtedly homeschooled back when it wasn’t as mainstream as it is now.”
The National Home Education Research Institute (NHERI) estimated 2.3 million children currently home school nationwide, up from 2.04 million in 2010. The U.S. Department of Education accounted for a nearly 62 percent increase in homeschooled elementary and secondary school children between 2003-12. They reported slightly lower figures based on data from the National Center for Education Studies (NCES), projecting 1,773,000, or 3.4 percent of school age children homeschooled in 2012.
NHERI also reported homeschoolers represent a wide cross-section of society and defy old stereotypes in cutting across racial, religious, and political party lines as well as socioeconomic brackets representing families with low, middle, and high income families. They noted 15 percent of home school families are non-White minorities.
The U.S. Department of Education maintained only 0.8 percent of students from the poorest homes earning $20,000 or less and only 1.6 percent of students from homes with household incomes over $100,000 homeschooled, according to CNS News.
NHERI projects U.S. home school population growing by two-to-eight percent per annum over the past few years. Parents choose to home school for a variety of reasons including the ability to tailor a child’s education and accomplish more academically, concerns about school environment (i.e., drugs, alcohol, sex, peer pressure), and personal values including philosophical or religious beliefs.
Today’s homeschooling families often navigate judiciously around the Common Core, although college entrance exams SAT and ACT are aligned to these standards. While NHERI reported 2014 homeschooler SAT scores surpassed the national average of college bound test takers, some home school families worry these standards will ultimately impact them for not teaching to federal mandates.
Stuart has not begun filming yet but already exceeded his initial $18,000 seed money goal through a crowdfunding campaign, which closes on December 2. If interested, visit Self-Taught on Kickstarter.
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