Being and Becoming

I recently saw the film Being and Becoming with a group of veteran and new homeschoolers and it was a valuable evening in many ways. First, the film is excellent and provided our group with a lot of material to converse about afterwards. The film has a nice pace and covers a number of families from around the world who decide to nurture, rather than manage, their children’s growth.

By allowing their children to explore the world in ways that might seem childish or nonproductive to others, the camera also reveals how important and precious those seemingly unimportant or quiet moments are. It is nice to also meet the parents—from the US, UK, France, and Germany—and hear their rationales for letting learning occur rather than arbitrarily schedule it for their children.

In particular, I am impressed by how the filmmaker, Clara Bellar, captures so many moments of how children learn from being around and part of communal activities, play, individual exploration, cooking, singing, dress-ups, theatrical efforts , making music, and so on. The adults, more often than not, are simply doing things, including work, with their children nearby. There are some tutors and classes in the film, too, but it is clear the children and parents have chosen them.

The filmmaker and her husband are both musicians, and the film gets it impetus when they wonder where they will have to eventually live in order to get their newborn son in a good school, so it makes sense that they would interview some fellow artists for advice. However, a comment from an audience member after the film hit on what some may see as a problem: So many of the children in the film are into the arts, and many are the children of artists and musicians. Don’t children raised this way ever become scientists or engineers?

I replied that how a homeschooled child is raised doesn’t determine whether they are going to be a technology or science major: for instance, MIT gave a professorship to 20-year-old Eric DeMaine, who was raised by his itinerant artist father, and Grant Colfax, a medical researcher and now chief of Health and Human Services for Marin County, CA, raised dairy goats on his family’s farm in northern California.

Further, in the film there is a French architect who notes, and the film documents, how her daughters watched construction workers fix a roof and then, days later, how the children used their knowledge gained by observing the workers to help their mom make repairs to their house. Such incidental learning and support for it from adults is wonderful to see in action.

But what makes this film special is the filmmaker/narrator's inquisitiveness: “Were a place and a time really necessary to learn?”

The movie’s exploration of how children and adults learn and grow together without following conventional school and child-rearing practices is vivid. Indeed, its celebration of childbirth and parenthood at the start of the film sets a beautiful tone for why parents might want to continue this holistic family life as opposed to conventional, fractured work/school/family schedules.

One audience member commented that Class Dismissed is like Homeschooling 101 and Being and Becoming is Homeschooling 202. I think I get what she meant: Class Dismissed is about how and why a family makes the decision to homeschool, trying out various education options, and ending with their decision to homeschool their children in an unschooling way. Being and Becoming moves quickly past the question of whether and how to homeschool and delves into the question: “How does learning happen and what do parents do if they aren’t making their children learn things as school does?”

We meet some amazing families in this film, and I was particularly impressed by the Stern family, in France, whose children grew up to be musicians, instrument makers, and dancers and who continue to work with homeschooled children today. Also in France, Claudia Renau and her husband, a schoolteacher, present some very cogent reasons for a relaxed approach to education. The Aldorts in the US provide some wonderful home video footage of their children that amplifies how their young children’s freedom to play and explore music and dance supported their later discipline to learn to read, write, and perform classical music. I can’t write about all the families we meet in the film, but they each contribute an interesting and meaningful piece to the overall presentation of how children learn on their own and how adults help them do this.

There are also education researchers and experts in the movie—John Taylor Gatto, Joyce Reed (a former Brown Univ. admissions officer and a homeschool mom), British researchers Dr. Helen Lees and Dr. Alan Thomas (I enjoyed Dr. Thomas’ comments in particular!), and a Harvard Univ. admissions officer are interviewed and all have positive things to say about self-directed learning and the homeschoolers who use it.

The title, Being and Becoming, gains more meaning as you watch the film and see how human growth and education are an inextricable part of life.

As an aside inspired by this film, I want to note how research has shown for decades that educational achievement is directly correlated to wealth and social class yet, despite evidence to the contrary, we act as if just by making education more efficient and rigorous we will eventually see improvements in poverty, health, and a better civic life. As Illich, Holt, Gatto, and others have argued for decades, and as this movie shows inadvertently, if instead of spending money to improve education we spend it to directly improve people's personal lives by having their basic needs met and worries diminished, learning will happen.