How far would you go to give your kids the best possible education you can provide?
The dad in this movie goes ‘off the grid’ and together with his wife decides to school them at home.
At home being somewhere in a nearby wilderness.
They build the bodies of athletes, hunt deer with nothing but a knife, sing and dance, but they also read the classics, such a the Brothers Karamazov.
Instead of sugarcoating things, he tells his children the truth about everything.
They don’t celebrate Christmas, but they celebrate Noam Chomsky day. A celebrated linguist who’s very critical of US policies and the mainstream media.
They also practice dialogue, when one of the kids protests and wants to celebrate Christmas, and not Noam Chomsky day, he’s asked to state his case to try and convince everyone.
The movie attacks:
- consumer culture, people having shopping as their favorite passtime, browsing like cattle
- the poor quality of regular schooling
- how poorly we treat our bodies
- how disconnected we are from nature
- how we buy ready to eat meat without having to get blood on our hands in any direct way
- keeping kids dumb with the digitial pacifiers that are video games
- blindly accepting social conventions
The movie defends:
- independent, critical thinking
- trying to be the best you can be, striving to be a renaissance person
- spending time face to face and not on digital devices
- eating real food, knowing where your food comes from
- going through rituals with your heart, not by rigidly following prescribed rules
The main character goes very far in his drive to give his kids a full-blown Bildung, an all round education, that does not necessarily lead to any monetary gain.
His 8-year old daughter can think critically about the Bill of Rights, but there are a couple of downsides, as nothing is perfect:
- his eldest son can probably recite plenty of Shakespeare, but has no idea how to date girls. He is like not of this world when he’s interacting with a girl his age
- he puts his kids in some physical danger from time to time
- his kids don’t know some every day things. They know Nike as the Greek Goddess, but not as the sneakers
- it’s not very clear what they are supposed to do when they will be grown-ups. They are better educated than other kids their age, but have no slip of paper to prove it, and slips of paper are more important than what you actually know in our world (although this can change)
What makes the movie beautiful is that the main character starts questioning his convictions and his actions. He’s also paradoxical in the way he rejects the rigidity of society, but at the same time he is rigid in the way he sticks by his own beliefs.
Every one of this six children has a unique personality.
His clash with the parents of his bi-polar wife is not black and white.
Nothing is black and white about this movie.
Moments you are really rooting for the convictions of the main character:
- his speech during the funeral scene
- when his 8 year old daughter totally outperforms two older boys who go to a regular school and play video games in their spare time
- when he’s open to listen to criticism of his methods and lets people make up their own minds
The end is not black and white either.
The message is not crystal clear, you don’t unglue from the television screen feeling you’ve just been forcefed some propaganda.
Like a really good movie it leaves you with some nagging questions.
What is a good education?
How are we to raise our children?
How much of our personal freedom are we willing to sacrifice to embrace the relative security and comforts society offers?
Perhaps it’s best to raise children with a clear direction, clear guidance, in loving discipline, and to ultimately, let them make up their own minds as to what they accept and what they reject from their unbringing.
The movie makes you want to throw away your digital devices, reach for a piece of classic literature, go for a run or seek the company of your brightest friends to celebrate humanity, the human brain and the human body and all human achievements face to face.
It does not say we can find an ideal world, but it does suggest it’s worth it to try and create one.