On the 23rd of September, my husband and I went to see the movie Jesus Camp (click on “Videos” at the top right of the screen). I meant to blog it immediately, but there was enough ambivalence within the movie to make me wonder if it belonged on a homeschooling blog. On the one hand, the opening context of the movie was framed within homeschooling. On the other hand, the ‘camp’ part of the movie didn’t make a single mention of homeschooling.
Jesus Camp isn’t a movie about ‘homeschooling,’ but the key children were homeschooled.
When the movie started I intended only to watch it, but I pulled out my notepad after a “fact” was written on the top of the screen: “75% of homeschooled kids are Evangelical.” There was no source given for the statistic, but it doesn’t jibe with the NCES statistics in which religion is given as the main reason for homeschooling by only 30% of parents (see “figure 2” under Parents Most Important Reasons …).
I’ve put all those on-the-spot notes at my own blog, Happy as Kings.
That 75% ‘statistic’ combined with the small number of children on whom the movie focuses made me more and more uneasy as the movie played out. The rolling of the final credits to the beat of one of my 70s faves, Norman Greenbaum’s Spirit in the Sky, only underscored that feeling. It isn’t that X% of children who are homeschooled are Evangelical, but rather that 75% is a number that will stick in people’s minds, and it is probably not true.
- Catholic Curriculum Swap: 3916 members
- Mater Amabilis Teacher Training Forum (Catholic Charlotte Mason): 610 members
- Episcopalian Homeschool: 135 members
- Lutheran Church Missouri Synod Homeschool: 134 members
- Modest Lutherans: 62 members
- Chevra (Jewish homeschoolers): 202 members
- New England Jewish Homeschoolers: 81 members
- Jewish Waldorf: 79 members
- Ladies of Torah: 134 members
- Unitarian Universalist homeschoolers: 807 members
- Southeast Latter Day Saints homeschoolers: 134 members
- Latter Day Saints Charlotte Mason: 164 members
- Gulf Coast Buddhist homeschoolers: 18 members (small, but still ‘there’)
- Shia Homeschoolers: 31 members
- Muslim Homeschool: 95 members
- Hogwarts Summer Correspondence School (Harry Potter homeschoolers): 613 members
- Many Paths: 236 members
- Free Thinking Home Educators: 239 members
- Earth-Mamas Homeschooling: 130 members
- Florida Pagan Homeschoolers: 125 members
- Washington Pagan Homeschoolers: 118 members
- Sacred Spiral Homeschool (Snohomish, Washington): 26 members
- Connecticut Pagan Homeschoolers: 64 members
- Sacred Grove Academy (Alabama pagans): 72 members
- Raleigh Pagan Homeschoolers (North Carolina): 26 members
- [‘pagan groups’ was the largest grouping I found, with 55 groups, so there are many more]
- Eclectic Homeschoolers of Chattanooga: 49 members
- Atheist Homeschoolers: 130 members
- Gay Homeschoolers: 166 members
The greater homeschooling community is nothing if not varied. Evangelical Christian homeschooling families may be the most visible group, which probably has something to do with organizational preference, but they don’t have a lock on homeschooling any more than they have a lock on shopping, or Michelin tires, or Sara Lee whole wheat hot dog buns.
Homeschooling is not a group-driven activity, but rather a family-driven activity. There may be cultural surges as the homeschool concept enters into different portions of society, but because of the ‘decentralized’ nature of homeschooling, no one group can own it.
My initial feeling about the movie was uneasiness, but that was probably ‘cultural.’ My church experiences are of the more ritualistic kind (referred to as ‘dead church’ within the movie) so I was out of my element while watching this kind of service. My own Vacation Bible School classes, or my times at Girl Scout camp, were nothing like the Kids on Fire camp. Because of this, I’ve waited to blog about the movie because it’s taken some time to ‘come down’ from the intensity of the combination of the music score and what was shown.
The homeschooling depicted in the movie was also not ‘my kind’ of homeschooling, but it wasn’t completely foreign. I’ve seen it before in support groups. What I hadn’t seen, though, was the emotional fervor that appears, to me, to be induced crowd hysteria directed at children who have no defenses against such a thing. What disturbed me even more was that the parents approved, and participated. I shall commit homeschool heresy by saying that, after watching this movie, I am inclined to be in sympathy with Rob Reich and Michael Apple who both feel that ‘society’ has as much of a claim on the forming of children’s personas as do parents.
Again, this is probably my cultural response and the children’s minister in the movie, Becky Fisher, has made the point that all parents “brainwash” their children to their points of view, and that Pentecostal families viewing the film approved of all that was shown.
As for the movie itself (and what follows is a spoiler, so be warned), the movie starts off by ‘introducing’ the three homeschooling families with vignettes of their family life. The only school context given for the featured children is homeschooling. Pentecostalism is a given for all the people, so it’s a non-factor for purposes of comparison. The boy preaches, one girl witnesses, the other girl worries that she sometimes dances ‘for the flesh.’
The three featured children are shown in their families before they leave for the camp. There are scenes of the boy and his mom discussing global warming from a skeptical viewpoint — ‘rise is just 0.6 degrees’ –, and then the boy and his brother watching a video on evolution that says something like ‘we don’t come from goo’ with a shot of some slimey stuff. Children in another family do a pledge of allegiance to the Christian flag and one child ‘breakdances’ to what I’m assuming was Christian heavy metal music in her bedroom, so that was very modern. Another scene is of a possible homeschool group bowling outing where one of the featured kids witnesses to/pesters a foxy young woman in the bowling alley (whether the child is witnessing or pestering depends on your point of view).
The rest of the children and parents at the camp are mostly ‘background,’ other than the little blond boy you see in the clips as either joyfully waving his hand to ‘die for Jesus’ or crying bitterly because he feels that he doesn’t live up to not being a good enough Christian. The little girl weeping in despair over abortion is also an unknown as to schooling preference. The camera catches them, but we don’t find out their backgrounds.
All the talking, singing, discussing, preaching, witnessing is done by the people in the movie. There is no script and no one off-camera asks/tells/says anything to the people in the movie. There are no ‘external’ voice-overs, narration, comments or opinions given. Editing is the editorializing. The film appears to be of the ‘reality’ genre. The folks at the church even have pictures online of the film makers & the camp.
It is difficult to pigeonhole just what was meant by choosing homeschooled kids to be featured, showcasing their home lives as homeschoolers, but then dropping all references to it at camp. As a homeschooler, I didn’t view the movie as being ‘about’ homeschooling, but I have a frame of reference for homeschooling. I don’t know how someone with no experience of homeschooling would see view the rest of the film after the opening framing all the kids in that context.
But there is still the ambiguity because no other ‘statistic’ was given other than ‘homeschool = 75% Evangelical.’ The content of the few captions before the statistic didn’t make me want to take notes, and I didn’t note any on-screen writing after the 75%.
Homeschooling-as-homeschooling is not discussed, but it is the backdrop to ‘who these people are.’ There is no depiction of any kind of homeschooling other than the one ‘flavor,’ and that overall impression is coupled with the 75% ‘statistic.’
For those in the general public who don’t have any homeschooling friends/colleagues/acquaintances/neighbors, this will probably be t.h.e. one ‘inside look’ they’ll have at people who are actually homeschoolers, and not just ‘playing one in the movies.’
Again, on the one hand there is no ‘homeschool connection’ at the camp, and mainstream discussion doesn’t mention it; but on the other, the only featured people were homeschoolers. The exception is the children’s minister, but she appears to be unmarried and with no children, young, grown or otherwise, in her home.
Tory (the dancer)
Rachael witnessing at group outing to bowling alley
Children’s pastor calling kids to repent
Harry Potter section of movie
Mike Papantonio interviewing Becky Fisher
ABC News Good Morning America interview w. Mike Papantonio (talk radio host from movie) & Becky Fisher (children’s minister).
MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough (fyi, segues into something called “Hollyweird”)
AlterNet blog post: Bill Maher on Jesus Camp