Last night, I watched a film with my family that brought me back to the early years of my life. Captain Fantastic is a movie about a family who homeschool their children in the forests of Washington. The wilderness is their classroom and they are their own teachers. Although on the surface there are many things in the movie I have no connection to (such as the mother committing suicide and living out of a school bus) this movie struck a chord with me that made me nostalgic for my own past.
Through sixth grade I was homeschooled in Gaston, Oregon, a farming town fourty five minutes outside of Portland. It is there in those forests that I grew up. Homeschooled by my two parents, I had an experience that resembled the dynamic portrayed in the film. Instead of killing deer with our bare hands, we drew them and examined them with curiosity. Instead of shooting wild sheep and cow for dinner, we made detailed surgery procedures and dissected their brains and hearts. To this day, there are 20 or more animals in our basement that were once our science lesson.
Today, schools are trying to market themselves as places that foster hands on learning. Home of the backyard chicken farmers, Portlanders want their kids to have new and unique experiences, so they send their children to schools that promise weekly outdoor trips and homegrown school lunches. Despite wanting this kind of education for their kids, few understand that the best way to give kids a wild education is simply by living in the wild. The best way to schedule outdoor trips is to live outside. And the easiest way to feed your kids local lunches is by buying your neighbors’ eggs.
My homeschooled education ended in seventh grade when I enrolled at a private middle school. Now I go to a public high school and in many ways, the change has been positive. However, there is one undeniable truth: I no longer spend time outside. When I was homeschooled, I would spend time doing school, chores, feeding my goats, and playing outside. Now I spend 8 hours sitting down at school, then I come home and sit on the couch for another four and then go to bed. My mom – a pediatrician – tells me stories about parents who complain about how little time their kids spend outside and ask what they should do. Although TVs and video games certainly don’t incentives kids to go outside, the education system in America makes it very difficult for kids to be rooted in the wild.
I know that the Captain Fantastic lifestyle isn’t a common way to raise a family nor is it the right thing for most people. However, it is a reminder for me of what is lost in today’s curriculums. Human connection with nature is critical and it is crucial that kids be better in touch with the outside world. In three days when we pick our next President, we will have little understanding of what either person will do to help youth become more experienced with the outdoors. In fact, many of us have no idea what they will do to fix the public education system at all because this election has been dominated by so much drama that it makes our election process feel more like a soap opera and less like the vetting of political ideals it is meant to be.
People complain that our options for president are so bad, yet we get a rush from reading about FBI investigations and sex scandals. When we get interested in the drama, the drama gets itself elected, and voters are stuck voting for a candidate based on whether or not they like the ‘pantsuit look’ instead of whether we agree with their public policy plans. This election cycle will prove to be most harmful for youth.
We do not understand where the future of education is going. I do not know where either presidential candidate stands on the issue that defines the future of our country’s youth. But what I do know is in order to teach your kids about the world, the public school classroom won’t do the trick. Captain Fantastic may not be the path forward for all, but the traditional classroom is a thing of the past.