PAM: Welcome! I am Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca and today I am here with Jeremy Stuart. Hi, Jeremy!
JEREMY: Hi, Pam, how are you?
PAM: I am great, thanks.
Jeremy is an unschooling dad and video editor who also directed and co-produced the documentary film, Class Dismissed, which you have probably heard of. Class Dismissed has been screened in more than 60 countries and translated into five languages and he is also working on a new documentary which we will also talk about, but to get us started …
Can you share with us a bit about you and your family?
JEREMY: Sure, yeah, so we have a daughter who is now 14 who has never been to school, never set foot in a school, since the beginning, and I guess I can share a little bit about how we got started. Is that what you are asking?
PAM: Well yeah, that would kind of lead us nicely into the next question, which is:
How did you discover unschooling and what that move looked like?
JEREMY: Sure, yeah. So, my wife and I, when we had our daughter, we started around the age of two, starting to talk about, “Well, what we were going to do for education?” The school thing; the school subject came up, like what are we going to do about this? And you know, at that time, I really knew nothing at all about homeschooling or unschooling, certainly unschooling, but not even homeschooling. Really knew nothing about it, it was not on my radar at all, and you know, we started reflecting on our own personal schooling experiences.
I grew up in London, England and went to a very traditional school and my high school was an all-boys school. So, I had the very traditional school upbringing, and my middle school years were pretty good, you know. I sort of followed along, I did what you were supposed to do—studied and got reasonable grades and you know, was doing the whole thing.
And then when I got to high school, everything shifted. I got to high school and suddenly I felt like all of these doors were closing in my face, and I distinctly remember having a career counselling meeting. I was about 15 or so, and they had these career counselors who would come in and talk to all the students about what do, what you want to be when you grow up, and at that time, I was really interested in music, I was a drummer, and that was really what I wanted to do with my life.
I remember at this meeting, they sat me down and said, “Well, what do you want to be when you grow up Jeremy?” and I said, “Well, I want to be a rock star,” and they said, “Well, um, that is not a job, here is a list of jobs that you might be interested in.” They gave me this piece of paper with all of these jobs listed, and rock star was not on there, and I said, “Where is rock star? It’s not on there.” And they said, “Well, that’s not a job,” and I said, “Well, yes it is, I listen to a lot of music, there are lots of bands that I like and I want to be in a band, and I want to be a professional musician.” And they said, “Well, you need a backup plan, you know. You should find something on this list, how about a lawyer or a doctor or…” and I am like, “No. I don’t think so.”
So, at that point, I suddenly realized, hmmm. This is just not really serving me very well. And so, my whole attitude towards school really drastically shifted. I became very disillusioned with the whole process. I wanted to study art, for instance, but I was obviously studying music, and they said, “Well you can’t do music and art, because they are both creatives. You have to pick one or the other,” and I was like, “But I want to do both,” and they said, “Well, you can’t.” It was just so frustrating.
So, as my wife and I were kind of discussing school and our own experiences with school, she said, “Well, why don’t we look into homeschooling?” and I am like, “What? Are you crazy?” So, she gave me this book by John Holt, How Children Fail, and I read that book and it just blew my mind. It resonated with me so much because of my own personal experience with school.
I left high school. I couldn’t wait to get out. The second I could get out, I was done. Never went back, never went to college, was just like, “I’m done.” So, this book really resonated. As I started reading more and we were researching online about all of this, it started to really make some sense, and then we went to the Homeschool Association of California conference that they have every year to sort of fact-gather. We wanted to see, ‘Well, what is this all about? Who are these strange homeschoolers? Let’s go see what this is all about.’ So, we went to the conference, and we had our little badges on that said, “First-timers.” We were like deer in the headlights, kind of wandering around.
And we were checking into the hotel and this young girl that was probably no older than about seven or eight that was staying in the room next to us just came right up to me, looked me right in the eye, and said, “Oh, you are a newbie? Well, welcome to the conference, I have been coming for seven years. I know everything. I know where everything is, if you need any help with anything, let me know, and by the way I play fiddle and if you would like a concert tonight, I am staying right next door.” And I was completely speechless. I had never been approached by a kid of that age, who was so confident, so in control of herself and so comfortable talking to me and making eye contact. I was just bowled over. I couldn’t believe it.
So, we did actually go into her room the next evening and she gave us a little concert, and she helped to show us around a little bit. The whole weekend was filled with these incredible experiences interacting with these kids, teens and kids of all ages. As you know, there was no issue with teens hanging out with little ones and talking to adults and looking them in the eye and this whole thing. That was my introduction to homeschooling, at the end of the weekend, I said to Kim, my wife, “Wow, these kids, there is something different about them. You know, if this is a result of this homeschooling thing, then yeah, sign me up, I am in, you know? Like, two thumbs up.”
So, that is what we started doing. So, it became pretty obvious that my daughter was not going to go to school and that we were just going to you know, try this homeshooling thing. Then it was a question of well, how do we do this, exactly? And you know, for us, we were attachment parenting, so we were already living in that sort of paradigm of non-authoritarian upbringing for our daughter. We both had fathers that were very dominant, and I did not want to be that way, and Kim did not want to be that way.
We were trying to raise our daughter very differently, the idea of partnership parenting, and attachment parenting, and so this whole notion of unschooling just kind of fit right in with that. And it was not like we just decided we were going to be unschoolers, because I do not really like labels. I just was like, we are just going to live, we are just going to keep doing what we are doing now. We hang out together, we play together, we learn together, we live in the world together. We travel, we have experiences. Let us just keep doing that and see how that goes. And as it turned out, later I sort of learned, that is kind of unschooling. So, that is how we began and we have been doing that ever since.
PAM: I love that story.
JEREMY: Yeah, it has been an incredible journey. It really has.
PAM: I loved the way you were describing the HSC conference. It is like a whole other world, isn’t it? That first time you drop into it and you go, wow, these are people and kids just like everywhere else, but it is a whole different atmosphere, but the people are engaging differently with each other and with the world, aren’t they? It is so fresh.
JEREMY: It really is, and then also it was helpful to know we are not weird for thinking this. Like, we know, here we are saying we are not going to send our daughter to school. That is really weird and radical in a sense, right. But being at that conference, we realized, ‘Well no, there are a 1000 families here and they are all doing the same thing, essentially.’ So, it is not that weird. In fact now, it is actually really normal. And I wish it was more normal.
PAM: Right? It is more normal for being a human being, right? For being yourself.
JEREMY: It is. Yeah, the idea of sending our daughter off to school, to strangers to essentially raise her and influence her in all kinds of ways, just seems really bizarre to me now, you know. I cannot think of why you would want to do that, but anyway.
PAM: Yeah, I remember too when I had not even heard of homeschooling, you know, when my kids were first, or my eldest was hitting school age, so I thought that was the only choice. And I had not heard the term attachment parenting either, although now when I look back that is what we were doing, because that is just what felt right and made so much sense to me.
And I was still working with my kids as they were going to school, you know; chatting with them, validating their experiences, figuring out ways for it to work better for them, etc. But anyway, once I had found homeschooling, it was like that experience at the conference or even like reading that John Holt book you mention, it was like—mind blown. This was that last piece of the puzzle I was looking for. And then I found, like you said, this seems normal hanging out with these people, that makes so much sense to me. I found I ended up kind of moving the people that I hung out with, you know what I mean?
Because so often when I was with more conventional parenting, etc. I felt very alone. And if I mentioned anything or had any questions, the answers were always, “Well, put them in school then,” or they were not the kinds of answers I was looking for, so it was very nice to find this whole community out there, to which this kind of lifestyle was normal. And to be able to interact with them and chat with them and hear about their experiences, that was such an important part of my journey. Did you find that?
JEREMY: Yeah, and I think it is really important; that sense of community is really important. For those people that choose to unschool or homeschool, I think it is really important to connect with other people in your community that are doing the same thing, because it can be very isolating and lonely otherwise, and you do feel ostracized and like you are on the fringes of society sometimes, you know. Because a lot of people just do not understand it, they don’t get it. Even the word homeschooling; they have certain images in their mind about what that looks like and they think it is weird and odd, and your kids are never going to be socialized, and all this kind of stuff, and so there are all these negative connotations around the terms and just the practice itself. So, it is super important to connect with community.
PAM: Yeah, and it really helps just immersing yourself. I find my learning happens better, whatever the topic, when I immerse myself in it, whether it is writing, or unschooling or whatever it is that I am interested in. That is a way that I learn really well, is to immerse myself in it, because then the connections are popping all over the place.
JEREMY: Right, sure, yeah.
PAM: I’m curious …
What has surprised you most, so far, about how unschooling has unfolded in your lives?
JEREMY: Yeah, that is a really good question. You know, it is interesting. As you know, it is a continually evolving process. And when I look at this process, the only thing I can really go back to is my own personal experience of it. Like, how has it been for me and what sort of road blocks and things did I run into along the way.
So much of this process has been about deschooling myself. Unravelling the conditioned ideas that I was given, either by my parents or through my traditional schooling, that I have to then, disassemble, in order to see beyond them. So, for instance, as I have said, I grew up in a family with wonderful parents, they did the best they could, but my father was very authoritarian, very strict, so you know, laid down the law, you did not question that. And that is not how I am, and yet, a part of that is in there still, I hear that voice come up in me. And that has been one of the biggest challenges I guess in all of this, when that comes up, when it raises its head, I have to catch it and go, ‘Wait, that is my parent’s voice, or my father’s voice, that is not mine.’ So, then how do I shift that? How do I let that go? And that is a constant process that is involving.
So, with the unschooling thing, because we are pretty loose about it. My daughter does not have set bedtimes and has never had set bedtimes and things like that. And I think that one of the things that comes back is she questions us, you know. And throws stuff back at us, which is sometimes really disarming, because I could never have done that with my father. To question him would you know, it just was not done.
So, every now and again she will do this. We will be talking about something, and she will say, “Well, I do not want to do that,” and I am just like, “What???” Part of me is just like….and then I go, wait, hang on a sec, oh, that is right, we raised you to have this autonomy. We raised you to have this independence and to have your own voice, and to be able to use your own voice, so okay, good, that is fine, let us talk about that then.
PAM: I know, that initial reaction, right, is just, “What?”
JEREMY: Exactly. My initial reaction is, “What the…how dare you question…I am the parent.” Then I am like, wait a minute, no, let us back off from that a little bit. So, I think the surprise, to come back to your question, I think the surprise is how often that still comes up, even though we have been doing this for 14 years, you know. There is still traces of that old paradigm that are sort of buried in me, that I just wish I could expunge forever, you know, just get rid of. But you know, that is part of my upbringing, and I think the way we are sort of conditioned by our parents and by our upbringing, and certainly we can escape that largely, but there are always little traces of that in there.
So, I think the surprises are things like that. And then the other one that I really like, is that when I am really paying attention, and I am really listening, and I am listening to my daughter and what she is saying, and what she is kind of putting forth as her interests or what she wants to do. And I step out of the way, and I back off and just go, “Okay, fine. That sounds great.” and then let her just run with it, amazing things happen.
And then it really always surprises me, I go, ‘Wow, that really worked out well.’ Why was I so hung up that somehow that was not going to work out, you know? Because I think trust is such a huge part of this. I think it is the central piece, like learning to really trust that somehow or other, these kids that are unschooled, they are going to turn out fine, right? If you provide a nurturing environment, if you are supportive, if you can connect with them and not put up barriers and do not impose your own authority on them, “Well, this is how it should be,” and just allow it to naturally unfold, incredible things happen.
So, I am really surprised by that, even now after 14 years, I still get moments of like, ‘Wow, that was amazing! That was just such an incredible moment, how did that happen?’
PAM: I love that so much. I am still amazed, even now, if I add it up, maybe we are 16 or 17 years in, and my kids are all young adults now, but I am still amazed at the value. I think once I was talking about not jumping in and adding my two cents all the time, because it was actually more valuable to not give my two cents. Stepping back and letting them run with it, and you are supporting them and helping them accomplish what they want to accomplish. When I say step back, you worry that people think, ‘Okay, I am not going to do anything, I am going to leave them to do their own thing.’ No, of course you help them, but yes, they take things in the directions that work for them, and they are directions that we could never have even imagined, right.
PAM: That is that trust piece, and why that is so important, right?
JEREMY: Absolutely, and it is so easy, I find, as a parent, as you said, to put your two cents in. Well, here is how I think it should be, here is what I think you should do…. why didn’t you do this?
PAM: Here is what I think will happen.
JEREMY: Right and then all of those, if you look really carefully at all of those statements, what is really behind that is my expectation. Here is what I think you should be doing. Here is why I think you need to do this. But it has really nothing to do with what they want, it is all about what I want. Or what I think they should be doing, right.
PAM: It is all part of our experience in the world. The way we have seen that play out, within our paradigm, and our expectations, and the way we look at the world, but they look at the world in such a different way, and even the things they are choosing to do, they can be choosing them for reasons that we have no clue about, you know. They are trying to get something out of it, that when they say they want to do something, our brain naturally jumps to, “Oh, well because they want to do this, because they want to get this out of it,” but no, it can be something completely different and when you give them that space and trust to do it, you are right, your mind is blown so many different times is it not?
JEREMY: Yeah, so I guess you know, it is a constant surprise, all the time, and it is a constant balancing act between knowing when to kind of step in a little bit and provide a bit more structure and guidance, and when to just completely back off and say, ‘Well, I am here and I will support this; I have no clue where this is going, and I maybe do not even understand it, but that is okay. I will just trust that it is okay, and it will either work out or not work out, and that is okay too.’
Because life isn’t perfect, I mean, you know, I’ve done many things in my life that I’ve failed at miserably, and it’s ok. I’m still here. I’m surviving. It’s part of my experience. It’s part of being a human being. But for some reason we get so hung up on wanting to control the outcome, getting attached to a certain situation, thinking this is how it should work out, it’s like, ‘Well no, we don’t know how it is going to work out, just go for it, trust the universe, trust your innate sense of self, and amazing stuff happens.’
But that’s a very, very hard thing to live in, a hard paradigm to kind of be operating from all the time, because I think we are bombarded with messages from society in general about what would be happening, what you should be doing, how you should be living, what you should be buying, what you should be pursuing, and all of that, and it’s just constant, constant!
PAM: Exactly. And how bad it is to be wrong, right?
PAM: That judgement of supposed failure is just everywhere, and it’s something that from very early years, like you were saying, the paradigm that we grew up in, the environment that we grew up in, is something that we are always working on, because that’s a huge thing, judgement and shame as parenting tools, and just as tools to judge other people, they are so prevalent.
JEREMY: Yeah, yeah.
PAM: OK, ok, we better move on.
JEREMY: I know, we could get pretty deep with this.
PAM: I know, I know, I could get going on just this one questions for like seven years…
JEREMY: It’s huge, yeah!
PAM: Ok, so let’s jump in on Class Dismissed, which is a wonderful documentary film that you released in 2015! It’s the fascinating story of one family’s choice to pull their two children from school and the journey that follows as they choose to take their children’s education into their own hands. So, I really enjoyed it, obviously.
JEREMY: Thank you.
I was curious what inspired you to tell that story?
JEREMY: Well, a couple of years into our own journey with homeschooling and unschooling, and you know, I was talking with a friend, and ironically we were at the HSC conference again, and we just started talking, and I’d been reading everything I could find and reading about the different approaches to it all. We were sort of fumbling our way through our own experience, and I couldn’t find any movies. As a filmmaker I was like, ‘Huh, how come there are no movies about homeschooling or unschooling?”
There’s some stuff on You Tube, there’s certainly things that you can find, but they are usually pretty short and not very extensive, and I couldn’t find anything out there that was a real feature length documentary addressing this. And I thought, ‘Hmm, this would be a really interesting project.’ And I love just throwing myself into big projects like this, especially when I think that they can’t be done. I thought well, you know, this is perfect. I’m going to do this. I’m going to make this movie.
So, that’s how the project really kind of began, it was a crazy notion. It took way longer than I ever imagined. It took four and a half years to make. You know, it was a huge undertaking, but it was an absolutely amazing adventure and an incredible journey to be on, and so that’s how it all sort of really began.
I felt like maybe, if I could successfully pull it off, then maybe this film might end up being helpful to other people who were in the situation that I was finding myself in. We’re just starting this journey, we are sort of looking around for information, there are lots of books to read and things, but you could get a pile of books this high, right? Or you could watch a movie and get a lot of information too. So, that was kind of the impetus to create something that is helpful to people that answered a lot of questions along the way.
PAM: Yeah, no, it does a great job. And no matter where you are on your journey. I found it really helpful. I still really enjoyed it even though we unschooled and the kids are officially graduated and, if you want to say that.
I wanted to share one quote because, it’s near the end of the film and I literally got goosebumps as she was sharing this. The mom was saying, so this is toward the end: “I think I’m starting to let go and relax a little bit. I’m amazed at how much I’m learning now. It’s not that I have more opportunities to learn now, but I am taking more opportunities to be part of learning, and to engage with life in a more rich and fulfilling way.”
You could just see that lightbulb moment. It’s that return of curiosity for the parent. It’s like that whole reawakening in the joy of learning, and truly embracing, we get to the point that learning isn’t just for kids, it’s not something kids are supposed to do. It’s a lifelong thing that we all get to do, right?
PAM: Right? Which then helps us, I think actually better understand why this lifestyle is also a better way for our kids to learn. So, it’s like this circle that just keeps giving, right?
JEREMY: Oh, that’s great, yeah.
PAM: So, that’s a really valuable step along the journey, to get to that point.
JEREMY: Absolutely, and I really think our kids are our greatest teachers, and so this whole lifestyle, like you said. If we are giving, if we are providing the opportunity for them to be free and to explore and to learn, then some of that has to come back at you, and it starts to break down those internal barriers that we’ve got about, ‘Oh, well, I can’t learn that, I’m too old, or whatever.’ It becomes, “Ooo, that’s interesting!”
And suddenly, that spark, that creative spark that I think we are all born with and that somehow gets crushed in the schooling system and by society in general, is reignited! You know, and part of this journey that this spark is being constantly reignited. And so, that moment in the film that you mentioned really is a terrific moment where Rachel really, it’s like she really understood, it’s like, ‘Wow, it’s not just about my daughters, it’s about me!’ And this whole idea of let’s learn and continue to grow together in the world. It’s a great.
PAM: Yeah, that was spectacular. It’s that moment where you learn that it’s a lifestyle, right, it’s not just about…
JEREMY: Yes. And that learning is ongoing. In this society, we have this notion that there are the “schooling years”, as if those are the only years where you are supposed to learn anything, and the rest is just…I don’t know! But that’s absolutely not true at all!
I mean, we’re always learning. It’s impossible not to learn! You always are learning something, so it’s an ongoing process. It’s just a question of are you aware of the fact that you are learning or are you actively seeking out things to learn, and is that creative spark being constantly ignited, or is it being snuffed out?
PAM: And once you start asking those questions, it’s beautiful.
What was your favorite part of the film? Do you have a favorite part?
JEREMY: Yeah, that’s a really good question, I do actually. I think one of my favorite parts of the film is, again, it’s toward the end of the film, and it’s when Anna is standing on the pier, and she finally has that realization that, it’s the moment that she finally takes the reigns of her own life and realizes that she is now in control, and she can learn whatever she wants to learn and follow whatever direction she wants.
That was an amazing moment for me in a lot of respects because, as a documentary filmmaker, you know, during the process of filming them, and we spent about two years with them and there was sometimes immense frustration that I could feel in myself about, ‘Just run with it. Anna. What are you waiting for? You’ve been given this opportunity, now like run! Go for it!’
And she was waiting for instructions and suddenly—I remember the light bulb going off in me one day that I was like, ‘Oh, I see what’s happening.’ All her life she has been told when you do something and how you do something and this is the time you do it, and she’s been waiting now for the instructions to come and they’re not coming. Because she’s no longer in school, and Rachel is certainly not telling her what to do, so she’s just sort of like, ‘Well, what do I do?’ And part of me while we were filming just wanted to be like, “Come on!” like give her a little poke, like, ‘Just do it!’
I did actually say to her at one point, “You know, Anna. You realize now that you’re completely free? You can do whatever you want.” And I just sort of dropped that pebble in the pond and left it at that, but it took a little bit longer for that to really sink in I think, and then at some point she really had that realization. I think right after she thinks she wants to go to high school again, and then pulls out again and then realizes, “OK, I’m ready to run”, and that was such a great moment. So that’s my favorite moment of the film.
PAM: That was brilliant. And in fact, it was between those two moments that I was going back and forth, “Oh no, which one to pick?!?!” But so yeah, that was spectacular when you saw that lightbulb moment for her, and you could…She really did a great job of explaining the pull, right, of why she was considering high school and thinking about that and so that revelation, she made it, she explained it really well to make sense as to how she got to that point. Right, versus, just from one to the other, it wasn’t like a light switch flipping on and off, you know. Great moment, director! You really put that together.
JEREMY: Ha ha, thanks! But that was kind of the amazing thing about making the film, because I really didn’t know how it would all end up, because I was just there to document their process, and it was scary at times especially when, “Well, I want to go to highschool now”. Well, there goes the movie. Well, you just killed my movie now. You know, I didn’t say that of course, but oh god, what am I going to do now? And so, I was already kind of thinking, ‘OK, what if she decides that’s what she wants and how does that fit into the story and how am I going to make that work in the film?’ Again that was a crazy ride! And again, that trust just had to come up!
PAM: I was going to say trust!
JEREMY: Just back off, just trust the process, just back off, and let her do her thing, and Rachel said she had to let her do her thing, and like Rachel just says that I just have to let her make her decisions. So, I think that that idea of trust in the process just came right up again, and we just had to roll with it. And it worked it that way in the end and so, it was an interesting ride.
PAM: Oh, I can imagine! I was kind of taking that ride there as I was watching. It was brilliant! You’re right, I was imagining, for you per se, and for other people working on it, like wow, ‘OK, there’s a little twist for ya.’ That was really great. Okay, so let’s jump to this new documentary that you’ve been working on for a couple of years now, haven’t ya?
JEREMY: Yeah, yeah, just over two years. So, I am very excited about it! I’m in the sort of homestretch of the film, so…
It’s called Self-Taught, and I was hoping you could share a bit about what the inspiration was around this one?
JEREMY: So, Class Dismissed took me all over the country and even other countries and such for screenings and that was fantastic. I kept hearing the same questions come up, and the questions were, “Well, homeschooling and unschooling seems fine when they are little, when they’re young, but what about when they’re adults, how do they turn out?”, “But if you’ve never been to school, how are you going to get into college if you want to go?” And, “How are you going to get a job where you have to get up at 9am and follow the rules?” and things like this, right?
These are really good questions. And I thought, ‘Wow, we didn’t really address that in Class Dismissed.’ I mean, a little bit we touched upon it, but it felt like there’s really a whole lot more to say about this. And I think it’s also a question that I personally think about sometimes, like “Well, how’s my daughter gonna turn out?” You know, those moments when I’m not trusting the process, where I’m questioning, you know, maybe she should be doing more of this? How is she going to turn out?
And so, it’s like, let’s take those questions and see what we can do about answering. And find, let’s talk to some adults who unschooled or had very little formal schooling and find out, how are they doing? What do they think about their lives? Are they quote unquote “successful”? How do they define that? And I think that the way we define success in our society is very, very, very narrow.
So, I was curious, how do they define success for themselves? Do they consider themselves successful, or is it even that important to them? And do they feel that their unschooling helped or hindered them in any way in fulfilling the dreams and doing the things that they are doing now? And so, these are the questions that I was sort of armed with at the beginning of them film that I resolved to try to get to the bottom of. And I found six really incredible young adults who answered my call to participate, and I’ve spent some time with each of them and I’ve got some really terrific stories, I think, to tell in this film.
It’s a very, very different film from Class Dismissed in that, you know, it is not following one particular family’s journey. The stories are very self-contained, so there are six very individual stories, but of course there are lots of parallels and lots of connections and similarities and differences as well.
And then they are sort of all interwoven with, I have Peter Gray in the movie who talks a lot about self directed learning and his research around that and so on. Blake Bowles is also in the film, and I wanted to really focus on the young adults, it’s really their story, I didn’t want too many quote unquote “experts” in the film. You know, in Class Dismissed there were a lot, you had Sandra Dodd and all these different people piping in, Pat Farenga in the film, and you know that was good, but I felt that this film, I really wanted it to be about these particular individuals, you know, let’s really hear their stories. So, that’s kind of how the film is structured currently and I’m really happy about it and I can’t wait to get it out there!
PAM: That makes so much sense, the part of having the experts, because you were follow this family’s journey, and she was doing this research, right? That was kind of the information she was gathering over that time through that process, so adding that as part of that story made a lot of sense, as does, once they are now young adults, they are looking kind of back on that journey and talking about where they are now, etc. Yeah, the expert advice isn’t quite as necessary, because now you’re looking at what they’ve lived, right?
JEREMY: And they talk about, they each reflect a little bit on their childhoods and what it was like to be unschooled and how they feel about that and sort of reflecting on how that has shaped who they’ve become, and that’s sort of the process. It’s interesting to kind of explore that and to see, well, “How do they really feel about it now, and do they have any regrets about it at all, or do they think they kind of could have done it differently?” So, these are all the kinds of questions I put out there and all the different responses you get.
PAM: I really do love that because, first off, you know, when you were doing all of the screenings and people were asking you those questions, right, when you take a beat to not feel defensive about it as representing unschooling or whatever, these are, like you said, these are great questions.
And they are questions that we all ask, like you say, they come to you, they come to me, these are human thoughts. It’s not about feeling bad about the fact that I’m questioning myself again, right. It’s human nature. These are…It’s just a question, right? It’s not that you failed unschooling because you’re wondering how it’s going to work in the future. These are questions to ask, and it’s interesting, and asking about regrets and things like that and it’s a good thing. Some things go well in our lives, some things don’t. When we look back maybe, you know what, maybe would have made a different choice knowing now what I know now. This is all part of learning and these are all the experiences together that makes us the unique person that we are. So, it’s not about even judging them negatively or anything, it’s just adding to our picture, right, of what unschooling can be?
JEREMY: Right? And in fact, if you weren’t questioning and asking all of those questions, then you maybe would have a little bit of a problem. You know, it’s super important to always be questioning, and it’s one of the great things about this unschooling lifestyle, that is, there’s not…there’s no roadmap. You know, it’s like if you follow the traditional schooling path, there’s a roadmap, you go to this school, you do these things, you do these subjects, you do this, you take these grades.
There’s a roadmap through our life basically, if you choose to take that route, and if you choose to step outside of that, then there’s no roadmap. So, you’re kind of winging it, and in fact, that’s why the questions really start to come up. But to me, that’s so…being in that place of not knowing is the most intimate place you can be. Because you’re so fully engaged with life, right? Because you don’t know so you have to start questioning well, ‘But what about this? And what about that?’ That’s living, as opposed to just saying, ‘Oh, I’m supposed to go to this. Oh, I’m supposed to go do that. Oh, I guess I’m going to do this now.’ There’s no…You’re not rubbing up against life, you’re not crashing into things.
And so, I think that to me, that’s the most exciting part of this lifestyle, it’s just crashing into stuff all the time, figuring it out, and I don’t know what’s going on half the time. And that’s ok. I feel alive by that. I feel engaged and enraptured with it. You know, because otherwise I’m numb.
PAM: That was a huge revelation of for me, right? Because, and we were a few years into unschooling, probably, when I suddenly had the realization that, because you’re always like, ‘Oh, if I could just solve x, y and z, then it would finally be peaceful.’ And that was supposed to be my goal. Like, all of the problems would be worked out, and then we could relax and just live. And then finally the revelation, ‘OH, that’s life!’ You know? All these questions and bumping up against things and just like, ‘Oh well, so, should I take this step? Should we do this?’ That was all good. That was life, and those weren’t going to end. There wasn’t some little white, peaceful room sitting there waiting for me if I could just figure everything out!
JEREMY: It’s the idea that if we can just get this and this and then everything would be fine but that’s not what reality is. You know, reality is mess. Life is messy. You’re going to crash into stuff, we are going to rub up against things, and that’s part of living! There’s only so much control that we—we think we have control, but we really have almost none. So again, coming back to trust. Trusting that, somehow or other, the universe provides what we need, if we are open to it, if we are receptive, if we are responsive, not just for our kids, but for ourselves. That’s why I love the unschooling lifestyle so much, because we are constantly thrown into that whirlpool of, ‘We don’t really know what’s going on. And wow, isn’t life incredible?’ It’s so interesting. Because there is never a dull moment.
PAM: And like you said earlier, pulling it all around, we are students of our children, right? That’s how I learned it was by seeing them, these bumps in the road, and things they run up against, they weren’t the end of the world to them. They weren’t seeing this as failure or anything. It was like, ‘Oh, there’s a new fact, or a new something, you know?’ And here we go! And just seeing them engage so fiercely with their lives. It woke me up to doing that as well, to remember what that was like and embrace everything.
You are in the production home stretch right now with the Self-Taught and you are running a Kick-Starter campaign to help with the final stages. I wanted to give you the opportunity to share a bit of information about the campaign and where people could check it out because I think it’s awesome.
JEREMY: Thank you, yes, I will send you a link so maybe you could post too. It is on Kick-Starter if you just go on Kickstarter and search for Self-Taught it will come up. It is an active campaign right now. We have about fourteen days left so the time is ticking [ED. NOTE: The campaign ended December 21, 2018.]
Unfortunately, making independent films is a pretty labor intensive and expensive process. I have no big funding from film companies or anything. It is just entirely a self project. A self-taught project in a sense. I really need the support of the community to get behind the film and support it as they did with Class Dismissed. Class Dismissed could never have done what it has done without the support of the community.
I am eternally grateful to everyone that got behind the film and supported it. It has gone out there and I get messages still to this day from people saying, “Oh, I saw Class Dismissed and it changed my life and now we are homeschooling and we love it.” To me that is like – “Wow! That is so great!”. So anyway, the campaign is running we have only fourteen days left (12/21/18). If we do not meet our goal then, I do not know what I am going to do. I have to either somehow get the funds together to finish the film. I have put in a couple years of work on it now. I do not pay myself on these projects this is all you know just a labor of love because I really passionately believe in this lifestyle and passionately believe in the subject matter. So yes, I really encourage people if they want to support it to get in there and do what you can. I know it is tough sometimes for people but anything helps. Every dollar helps. I am hoping we can make the goal and I can get to finish the film. In which case, it would be coming out in spring of next year.
PAM: That is awesome.
JEREMY: I have a finished cut of the film pretty much, so I am feeling good. There are just a lot of loose ends to tie up, particularly the biggest thing is music—getting music in there. You have to pay for music, it is not free. I have a composer in mind and I really want to be able to pay him what he is worth. You know to write some fabulous music for the film and really put the icing on the cake so to speak, as I say in the pitch.
PAM: Yes, I know that is great. I will definitely have links to it in the show notes and when the episode goes out we will share it. I would love to see it come out. You are right, there are always these pieces where you are working with other people. Even when you are putting so much of your own heart and soul into a project, when you are asking other people to be involved it is their work. So, you want to support them that way as well.
JEREMY: Yes of course.
PAM: Okay, our last question, Jeremy …
As an unschooling dad what piece of advice would you like to share with dads who are considering or just starting out on this journey.
JEREMY: That is a really good question. It is challenging and at the risk of stereotyping I think generally speaking it is the mom that is going to take on the bulk of this journey with their kids. Again, I know that is a stereotype but generally I think that is true. So, the dads often I feel like they get sort of short changed a little bit or they get a little bit, they are not quite as in the picture as they should be. You know they are out working and I have run into this too in my working life where all of the conversations at work revolve around school and what the kids are doing at school.
I remember sitting around the lunch table and stuff and everyone is going, “Oh, my kid is in this grade and in that thing,” and I cannot contribute to that conversation. Because my daughter is not in school. You know there is this feeling of feeling kind of left out a little bit. Then you come home from work and it is like, “Well, what have the kids been doing?” The house is a disaster, there are Legos and there are toys, just stuff everywhere, you know it looks like a bomb landed in the house. That can be very, very hard I think for new dads who are just starting out in this journey and trying to figure out what does this mean.
I think societally too there is this message that the father is supposed to be the provider and even in this day and age. It seems like a 1950’s thing but you know you have got to be the provider and go to work and pay for the family and all of that and I think that messaging is still in there. For dads that want to step outside of that and question that, it is really challenging.
Advice I would say, just be really open to the processes. Again, try and find that place of trust that somehow or other you can come home from work and the house is a mess and your kids have been laying around reading all day or something and you wonder what have they really learned? They have learned an amazing amount actually. Just try to kind of tune, retune the dial a little bit. Spend time to connect with them when you come home from work. Make sure you have time to connect and listen to what they have been up to and let that in. Be free of judgement because it is hard in the workplace there is so much of that. Success driven, get the job, get the promotion and make the money and all of this and all of that is just being bombarded all the time and to come home to this kind of sort of free form, crazy, wild, unschooling thing can be really challenging.
PAM: Yes, you are looking at both worlds all the time.
JEREMY: Yes. So, I think that is part of it. I think the main message would be just to trust your children, really trust your children and be there to support them in whatever way you could possibly can. Learn from them, you know really allow that mirroring to happen. For me, my daughter is a mirror. When I look at her, she just mirrors stuff back to me whether I want it or not.
JEREMY: I see myself in her, things that sometimes are hard to see and I go, ‘Wow.’ That is really interesting you know, now I have to shift something. I have to tune that dial a little differently there. Because she just reflected it right back at me. That is difficult. So just be open, I guess. Trust.
PAM: I love that. That is huge, just being open wider to seeing that, seeing what is happening. It is letting go of the expectations a little bit isn’t it.
JEREMY: Yes. I think that sort of attitude can be applied to everything in life. I think as we go through this journey of life, things tend to get narrower and narrower or they can. We are forced into these little funnels. To me the challenge is to break that funnel down and actually get bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger and let more and more of the world in. You know let more of the world in not less. The more of the world you let in the richer your life becomes. It is hard because we have all these messages. Oh, you are not supposed to do that or you are supposed to be doing this and it is hard. Break down those barriers and include, even include that, include all the messages that say you should be doing this, allow those messages in, then question them.
JEREMY: Right? Do not try to push them away because I think that actually funnels you and gets you more narrow minded.
PAM: It does because you are trying to ignore.
JEREMY: It is like okay, so society or this person or my parents or whoever is saying, “Oh, your kids should go to school.” Ok. Let us allow that in, allow that discontent in and sit with that and now just expand it and make your container bigger. So, that now you have got room for those things in there too. You keep making your container bigger and more stuff comes in and you make your container even bigger.
I think that is the journey of unschooling. Is just allowing as much of the world in as possible and seeing what works and discarding what does not. But at least allowing it all to percolate together in one big pot.
PAM: You are building your view of the world. You have learned so much more and you make stronger connections that make more sense to you when all the bits of the world are in there to consider. Rather than just having this narrow, narrow focus and like back to when we were talking about the questions that you were asking for Self-Taught, if you do not consider those, if you feel like that is a failure and you are trying to avoid that, you are (like you said) just narrowing your experience, you are narrowing your view of the world.
Not only does that not do yourself a service because you are not learning you are totally focused but the energy that it takes eventually to try and keep all that noise or all those other voices out means you are going to have to do that forever. Where as, if you open up your world and you connect that and you figure out why they think that and you understand where they are coming from, you understand how that makes sense to them. You understand why it does not make sense for you. Then live in the world with all of it.
JEREMY: I think you said something really great there about the energy that it takes to resist and to push away these things that do not fit or are sort of encroaching upon our world view or whatever, take so much energy that you end up robbing yourself of that creative spark that we talked about. Igniting that spark that we all have in us and so it gets snuffed out and then your life is tiny.
If you’re like, “I don’t want to,” and you push this away and push that away … no, no, invite all of it in. Just keep making the container bigger because we all have the potential for just vast amounts of compassion and empathy, but we don’t use it. We want to separate ourselves, “They are different from us,” or this, or that. And we just become narrower and narrower and narrower, and I think we should be doing the opposite.
That is what I love about unschooling; in a sense it forces you to do that. Because there is no road map, as I said. You are sort of winging it sometimes, and learning to trust. Ultimately, the rewards are so much greater because, as you begin to go through this process, you see that things miraculously work out. You know, these kids turn out great! They are amazing human beings! How could that be? It’s mind-blowing. “What do you mean you never went to school and now you are doing like a PhD in Biology? What? That makes no sense.” But it does make sense. When you really start to see. “Oh yes, that does make sense!” Then, all of a sudden, it becomes easier to navigate that sense of unknowing or not knowingness.
PAM: Yes. That is amazing. We could talk for ages.
JEREMY: We could.
PAM: I know, because it is brilliant. It is so true. It is spectacular.
JEREMY: I get so fired up by these conversations. I know, I just want to keep going, yes, yes. Because I already feel this sense of expansion happening.
PAM: I know. I am ready to get to things!
Thank you so, so much for taking the time to speak with me Jeremy it was awesome.
JEREMY: Yes. it was. You are welcome.
PAM: I really appreciate it.
JEREMY: You are so welcome it is a pleasure.
PAM: It was. I will share the Kickstarter link and everything. Is there any other place where people can connect with you on-line?
JEREMY: I will shoot you a quick e-mail after this with the website for Class Dismissed and for Self-Taught and the Kickstarter URL and that is about it, that is where they can find me, hovering around the fringes.
PAM: Alright, have a wonderful day, Jeremy.
JEREMY: Thank you so much Pam really nice to connect with you.
PAM: It was lovely, thank you.
JEREMY: And thank you for everything that you do too. It is wonderful to have people like you out there adding another voice to the conversation. Letting people know that they have choices. You do not have to have this little narrow view. It is like, “Open up people!”
PAM: Open up, open up. That is awesome. Thank you.
JEREMY: Thank you.