A new independent film, now showing in select theaters on the West Coast and making its way to the Midwest and East Coast in November, is currently screening to sold out audiences. Class Dismissed explores the fast growing movement in the U.S. toward home education and learning outside of the traditional confines of a classroom. Produced by 3StoryFilms, the movie follows a homeschooling family from LA who decide to take their two children out of school to pursue learning in a completely different way.
I recently spoke to the film's director and co-producer Jeremy Stuart. Stuart, who produced the film with Dustin Woodard, is himself a homeschooling dad. He talked about the surprising response to the film and what he hopes audiences, viewers, and critics will take away from seeing it:
How did you arrive at the decision to create a documentary about learning outside the classroom?
As my own family began our journey into the world of home education, it became clear to me from the response we got from friends and strangers alike, that many people, despite being dissatisfied with the current educational model, felt 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.
You've sold out the last three screenings of Class Dismissed in California, including the premiere in LA. Did you expect this kind of enthusiastic response to the film?
The response to the film so far has been overwhelming and has far exceeded our expectations. We had done a few test screenings early on in the process of editing the film and had received good feedback, but I honestly wasn't sure what to expect from a larger audience. The subject of education in general can be a contentious one and opinions can be polarizing, but the film seems to have hit a nerve among homeschoolers and non-homeschoolers alike and we're thrilled that the conversation is happening.
What are some of the comments you've received from audience members, questions you've been asked during the post show discussions?
The comments so far have been very positive. If they are already homeschooling many people have commented about how the film offers validation and encouragement to their own journey and experiences. And there have been a number of non-homeschoolers in the audiences who have shared that after seeing the film they are inspired to make the leap. I think the film addresses and answers many of the typical questions that people have about homeschooling and the comments we've been getting seem to reflect that.
You have screenings in Portland and Washington, with a screening in the Chicago area in mid-November. What are your hopes for this film looking into the next few months?
We're going to do as many independent theater screenings as we can logistically and financially manage, but with no big distributor behind us and very limited resources (there's only two of us on the team) we're only going to be able to sustain that method for so long, which is why we have put together a Screener Pack that anyone can buy. The Screener Pack contains a DVD of the film, a guide to hosting a screening in your community, homeschool group, church or even your own home and a Homeschool Resource Guide packed full of information, links and useful resources for those who want to know more about homeschooling options.
We're encouraging people to purchase the Screener Pack, organize their own event and invite friends, relatives and neighbors, especially those who are "homeschool curious". Afterwards they can engage in conversation, answer questions, share their own experiences, and hand out information for those new to home education. The Screener Pack is available for purchase now and will ship in early November.
For those who prefer a big-screen theater experience, they can contact their local theater and arrange a screening providing they can gather enough people to make it profitable. There's nothing like seeing the film on a big screen with a group of people. Here's the link with information about these options.
Additionally we are submitting the film to festivals around the country. We've submitted to five so far and will continue to do so as they become available and if they are an appropriate venue for the film. And finally, the film will be widely available on DVD and as a digital download sometime early next year.
Your documentary features educators, activists and writers who emphasize the unlimited learning potential of education outside the classroom. Do you think that Class Dismissed will help viewers to finally realize that home schooling can be everything but isolating?
Yes, absolutely. I think the film does a good job of dispelling the myths that surround homeschooling and sheds light on various ways to make it viable as an educational and social model. 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.
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.
Here's my favorite quote from one of our recent screening attendees:
View the trailer for the film here:
No one should ever experience being bullied. It's a cowardly action that unfortunately occurs all too often in our schools. According to the National Education Association, it is estimated that 160,000 children miss school every day due to fear of attack or intimidation by other students. I was one of those students being bullied. I would hear constant comments and snickers from students about my height. "Hey, you are taller than my dad and all dads! You are taller than the rest. Why are you so tall? Why aren't you normal?" Those comments bothered me, made me feel small -- made me wonder why I was different than everyone else. Why I was the one being picked on.
Then two things intervened: The game of basketball and most importantly, my older sister Lizzie, who was born without sight, without hearing and with autism and cerebral palsy. Although Lizzie and I could never talk through sight or hearing, we built our relationship through touch, smell and other sensations. Lizzie taught me so much without ever saying a word. Through her triumph over daily struggles, she taught me to be proud of my uniqueness. People will love me for my uniqueness. I should want to be different and distinct and I should even have compassion for the people who bully others -- they are always the ones who have insecurities themselves.
Lizzie gave me perspective and led me to appreciate my gifts of height, strength, determination, skill and talent, which combined with work ethic and opportunity, allowed me to pursue and thrive in a career in the WNBA. It's that success that has provided me a platform to help others. My relationship with Lizzie has inspired me to help create a more inclusive world for everyone -- a world in which no one is bullied. A world in which people who are different from each other including people with intellectual disabilities, are not only accepted for their differences, but celebrated for their uniqueness.
Because of Lizzie, I work tirelessly to promote inclusion and respect for all individuals, especially those with intellectual disabilities and use the power of basketball to inspire change. For the last two years, during my off-season, I have been hosting a basketball skills training camp for girls that include Special Olympics basketball players from the ages of 7 to 18 years old, with the goal to "Play Unified." "Playing Unified" is inspired by a simple principle: training together and playing together is a quick path to understanding, acceptance and friendship, breaking down the barriers that exist for people with intellectual disabilities.
Last year I hosted a camp in my home state of Delaware, but this year I am able to reach even more athletes and am traveling across the country with stops in California, Virginia, Delaware, Chicago and Pennsylvania. I have also been very deliberate in making sure my camps are a "safe" and inclusive space for athletes of any race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. Working with these young women has been a life-changing experience for me and I know a life-changing experience for them. These athletes are building friendships that will last a lifetime -- these women are learning skills in sport that will serve them in everything they do -- working together, listening to each other, embracing each other's differences. These women are breaking down barriers and are champions of change and real understanding.
This was perfectly illustrated at my camp this last weekend in California. Taylor, a standout player at Archbishop Mitty High School befriended a Special Olympics athlete named Sophia. Sophia had walked in the door not knowing anyone and I'm sure, was nervous about the experience. Taylor, the star who knew everyone, took it upon herself to make sure Sophia always felt included. They partnered on every drill and Taylor encouraged her throughout the day. They quickly developed a special bond and their energy became contagious. The other campers caught on fast and before long, the gym was buzzing with athletes cheering each other on.
Together, through unified play they created an atmosphere of acceptance and one where there was no fear of failure -- and no fear of being different. I walked away feeling so inspired about the impact the experience had, not just on an athlete like Sophia whose confidence has now grown, but on Taylor and her teammates. The leadership and kindness they demonstrated is what we need to make the world a better place for everyone.