“Schooled” – The Review

A few weeks ago I posted about Schooled, a new movie that depicts the life of a Sudbury or democratic school. The team behind the movie got in touch with me (to tell me about Schooled and they were kind enough to mail me a copy of the DVD.

The movie was OK; however, I was somewhat disappointed to see that the school in the movie didn’t really get a lot of attention. In a way it almost feels like the movie was poking fun at the democratic school concept – if you weren’t already aware of such schools, you’d get the impression that all they do all day is play games. The most damning scene for me was when Fred (the lead character, a burnt-out teacher) tried to share some facts about cannons but the students didn’t pay any interest. Aren’t such schools about seeing the learning potential in anything, to gain an interest in knowledge? That was the complete opposite!

Hector, the teacher at the school (and supposedly Fred’s rival in some sort of love triangle) came off as an unfeeling inflexible megalomaniac. Some of the students at the school create an advocacy group claiming that Hector was pushing his ideals; however, in the film, the student group get shut down with nary a listen and Hector rules again (we don’t get to see why the students, one of whom Hector has adopted, have a problem with Hector in the first place). When Fred asks him about learning and getting into college, Hector claims that they do it “from the heart” – yet his treatment of Shelliot (his wife and Fred’s close friend), Fred, and the students come off as heartless, preferring to stick to his ideals rather than considering other viewpoints (as evidenced in his unwillingness to even consider Shelliot’s wish for a baby due to overpopulation).

There are quite a number of subplots – Fred’s marriage to Luna, his family troubles, the sexual tension between Fred and Shelliot, the two kids at Fred’s school – that get touched on but don’t really reveal themselves very well. Sometimes scenes will come up but then disappear again, making you think “what was the significance of that?”. For example, Soomi (another schoolkid that Shelliot and Hector adopted) dumps wine into the salmon, then says she is “sad and scared” – but we never find out why.

With some trimming of subplots, and better exploration into the characters’ motivations, the movie could have done much better. Since the school was meant to be the focus of this movie, it would have been great to devote more time to it, especially in all the different ways their students learn, grow, and motivate themselves. The brief views do not do it justice.

The film itself isn’t terrible, though it could have been better. It’s OK viewing but don’t expect it to give you epiphanies about education. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it as a primer to democratic schools – unless you want to leave with the conclusion that all students do all day is play video games!

Good effort guys; just needs some depth.

“Schooled” – film on alternative schooling system

The Sudbury Valley School system, started in Massachusetts in 1968, is one of the more pre-eminent and well-known forms of alternative school systems in the world. In the core of the Sudbury Valley system is democracy in education: students and staff are all given the right to vote on issues in the school that affect them – from school lunches to changes in rules. There are also no compulsory sessions, classes, or subjects; instead, the students take their own initiative in deciding what they want to learn, when and how they want to learn it (much like unschooling, just with a structural base). Age groups are mixed and often the students also act as teachers to their peers.

The Sudbury Valley system is in place in North America, some parts of Europe, Israel, and Australia, though it hasn’t really taken off elsewhere. This could be due to different cultural and societal expectations on the purpose of schooling and education. Imagine if Malaysian students were allowed to decide what they wanted to learn, and didn’t have to do exams if they didn’t want to! I would personally love it, but the rest of the country may degenerate into confused chaos as it’s completely the opposite of what we’re used to.

Part of overcoming such barriers is to experience the Sudbury Valley system for ourselves. If we’re not lucky enough to get to visit a school, though, there is another way: watching the film Schooled.

Schooled showcases the journey of Fred, a school teacher facing plenty of problems both in his personal and professional life. To resolve his crisis, he goes out to discover alternatives, and stumbles upon a Sudbury Valley school. The sheer difference of systems shocks him into reevaluating his perspectives and goals.

The film has received positive feedback from the Alternative Education Resource Organisation, the key worldwide organisation for alternative and democratic schooling, as well as other educators and past Sudbury Valley students. Screenings have been held around the US, Australia, Sweden, and Canada.

To celebrate its launch, the people at Schooled are offering special discounts and free offers for every DVD sold on Wednesday, October 15 (Launch Day). The DVD normally costs $25, but for Launch Day there will be a 20% discount as well as a choice of goodies related to alternative education or to Hollywood.

I haven’t had the chance to see the movie yet, but if I do I’ll post a review. This should be interesting – there have been a lot of films about teachers and schools, but not many (if any) dealing with a real-world alternative system. Will this increase awareness and acceptance for alternative systems? Let’s see.

(thanks Erin!)