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I waited a long time to watch this movie and I really, really wanted to like it. I thought initially it was about a father homeschooling his children (and to some degree it is) and I very much support homeschooling. These days, I think as polytheists, if it’s at all possible given one’s family circumstances, to do anything other than homeschooling one’s children is unfortunate. Turning children over to public schools is turning them over for indoctrination into a modern, secular culture that is actively hostile to religion, to the development of virtue (in the classical sense), to common sense, not to mention just terrible from an educational perspective.
More and more families of all class, racial, and religious backgrounds are choosing to homeschool – and were well before Covid. I recently learned that the biggest reason people homeschool isn’t actually either of those things (Covid or religion), surprisingly, but rather because of bullying in schools (that, I might add, is rarely dealt with effectively by administrators). There are two main worries I hear constantly about homeschooling, that as an educator myself, I want to put to rest and then I’ll get into the movie. The first is that it’s more difficult for homeschooled children to get into college. That actually is not true at all and I work with several successful Phds who were homeschooled right up to their first year of undergrad. They took the SATs, the GREs and had no problem at all. Statistically, homeschooled children tend to score higher than average on these tests. The second concern is socialization. One does have to take care to provide opportunities for socialization for one’s child when homeschooling but there are homeschooling leagues and afterschool programs, hobbies, and activities (just like with any other regularly schooled child), and like anything else, it takes proper time and care. For those wanting more information, here is a link to the HSLDA, which gives state by state guidelines on homeschooling and requirements. Now, onto the movie.
So, this movie starts with a father and a passel of children (I think six – a lot). For the first half of the movie, I loved 90% of how he was raising them. They learned survival skills, self-reliance, languages, math, science, music, literature all at very high levels (at one point, we learn his kids speak six languages fluently)—his eldest son gets into like half a dozen ivy league colleges. The parents taught them how to hunt, live off the land, fight hand to hand and with weapons, and plan strategically. They lived well away from civilization. They also lived well off the grid and sans social media. There is a wholesomeness to their lifestyle. The father even did a sort of initiation rite into adulthood when the eldest boy killed his first deer (with a knife). At one point, he gifted all his children with weapons. It was beautiful and absolutely how I think children in a proper community should, in part, be raised.
As the movie progresses though, we see the downside. They aren’t as disciplined as they should be and freely argue with their father far more than I find appropriate. They’re being raised without religion, (and in fact, the father at least articulates opinions that are openly hostile to religion,) which I personally consider a step away from abuse. They’re being raised in a way that allows the children to explore Marxism and communism (though at least the father points out that genocide is as likely to happen under communism as under any other system. Historically, we know under communism genocide is even MORE likely). Most concerning of all, they aren’t socialized and we really see that as the movie progresses with the eldest son and especially with the father’s response to learning the son has applied to college. We also see the Buddhist wife’s Christian parents violating her wishes and behaving in ways that would have had me personally sending the one of them to the ICU. This is not an easy film to watch.
I won’t give away too much of the plot. I will say that I was sick, physically sick at the end of the movie because it ends with the father betraying his children by sending them to school. It angered and sickened me. My husband pointed out that it really highlights how necessary it is to have a focused, committed community when raising healthy children, that a single parent can’t do it all him or herself and that once the mother was no longer in the picture, the family’s way of raising the children wasn’t sustainable. I can see that but I disagree. I think the father caved. I think there were plenty of other ways to engage with the world and socialize his children than subjecting them to what is inevitably a subpar education. I don’t think one should compromise on the quality of education for one’s children, and it seemed by the end of the movie that the two youngest weren’t going to receive the type of focused life and survival training of which the eldest four had benefit and it made me nearly vomit. The public-school system in this country is designed to create mediocrity, not nurture excellence. It’s a travesty. The viewer is given a clear comparison of the more or less healthy (minus the points I noted above) way the father is raising his kids versus a typical American middle class upbringing when the six homeschooled children encounter their two soft, “normal” (and poorly educated and shallowly brought up) cousins. The contrast is really quite something to see:
Obviously, I have strong feelings about this movie. It evoked quite a bit of conversation in our home. I will say that the comments on homeschooling made in the movie are not accurate, at least not in the states in which I have lived and I encourage people who are interested to do their own research.