For our English speaking readers, here is the interview with regisseur and actor Clara Bellar about her new movie, „Being and Becoming“/“Etre en Devenir“. It is about unschooling and shows portraits of some unschooling families and interviews people who discuss this subject in their professional surrounding, like John Taylor Ghatto or Alan Thomas, sometimes in personal union as Naomi Aldort or André and Arno Stern.
I met Clara in the UK in summer 2014 and we held this interview before the start of the movie in Germany by the end of November 2014 via skype.
The interview was held in English, but I adapted it for my German blog.
So please find the original interview in English below.
flb: Dear Clara, thank you very much for being here on skype with me for this interview.
You are touring around with your family to show your new film, “Being and Becoming / Etre en devenir” which is about unschooling. People watching the movie often have many need to talk afterwards, so you are doing Q & A – sessions after the film if possible. So you travel having your kids around as well. How old are they?
Clara: One and six.
flb: Yes, yeah.
Clara: So I begged my husband – please, please – so we go and we stay with unschoolers all over France –
Clara: and we host, and so my son has children to play with everywhere we go – we arrive, and there’s toys and children, and even at the cinema there are children everywhere because parents come with their children.
Clara: And my husband – he works till 4am on the computer everywhere we go – and you know, we just try to make it work.
Clara: They meet unschoolers, they meet the children, and sometimes we stay for 2 hours talking after the film. In Paris, it’s been playing now for almost 6 months. Now it’s once a week, but it’s every Sunday morning. And every time there’s a different guest for the Q and A.
Clara: And when I’m in Paris I go. And the cinema said it’s the first time ever that they have Q and A – it’s an hour, and hour and a half – and after that, people still keep talking in the streets, in front of the cashier, in front of the cinema, and sometimes they stay for hours in the streets talking.
Clara: And they go to the [inaudible] or the pizzeria, and they keep talking till the evening.
flb: So it really makes a movement in their minds!
Clara: It’s so important. People cry, and they come back three times to see the film, and they bring their husband, and they bring their child who is in school, and the child says, “Oh, now, school is much better for me now that I know that it’s a choice,” so much going on. Adults, they quit their job, because they realize they didn’t like their job, and they see their children who are happy and doing what they like, and they say, “Hey, it’s not fair. Maybe I can do what I want, too.” And then they switch careers.
Clara: They learn new jobs and they realize, “Maybe it’s not too late and maybe I am capable, even if in school they told me I’m not capable – I think I’m capable.” It’s so beautiful, and it’s amazing.
flb:Yeah. Does not make a change only for the children, but for the whole family, for the adults, too.
Clara: Right, it makes me cry. There was a woman, she said, her boss was um, what’s the word, she had traumatic stress from work –
Clara: Her boss was harassing her, and she quit her job, and she said, please don’t say my name, but she put something anonymously on Facebook, and she said, the film is a big piece of the puzzle for me in my life, of what I’m going to do with my life, and I’m realizing, I can do what I want to do. I don’t need to be humiliated every day at work, and that’s what I learned to be at school is, I was humiliated at school, and then I accepted that from my boss.
flb: People in the countries where unschooling is allowed, you mean they don’t really know? They aren’t aware that it is allowed, or that it is a possibility?
Clara: They don’t know, here – the country of freedom, you know, liberty of choice, and all. It’s crazy – nobody knows that it’s always been legal in France, and it’s legal not to go to school. In Italy, they did a – there’s an association, very, very small freedom of learning, and they told me it’s even worse, because in France some people are starting to know, because there has been some things in the press, but in Italy, it’s legal, nobody knows.
flb: You are in France right now?
Clara: I’m in France. I just got back from the region of [French name] in [French name] where I did Q and A’s. And, um, got back yesterday, on Monday I fly to Berlin.
Clara: And then Weimar/Germany. And um, and it’s crazy. Everyone I knew, they say, wow, we didn’t know. And some people, they watch the film; there was a cop, a police man who came to see the film. I don’t know why he came, he came alone – I don’t know if he’s a father or what, and he said at the end, he said, “Ok, well, that’s very interesting, but how do you manage to go around the law, because it’s illegal in France not to school,” and we said, “No, actually, it’s legal. The film is telling the truth. You can believe us, and you can check the law for yourself if you want, but some people they still don’t believe us. Because so big, that, what do you mean that school is not mandatory? They – it’s such a huge revelation, and then some people have furious reactions, because if they realize that they went through so much suffering, or their children did, and it wasn’t necessary, and it wasn’t mandatory, that is so much violence to realize, wow, we went through all this and we could have avoided it. Some people – an audience member in [Name of place], told me it’s called the Syndrome of Stockholm, where you, you get some affection for your aggressor, because it justifies, you know, your situation. So, it’s the people who are convincing themselves that it was all very important because it’s too much, the idea that their life could have been could have been, you know, they could have avoided it. It’s such a big thing to go through, that they get very aggressive with me because I’m the messenger.
Clara: So I get, I get furious reactions sometimes.
flb: Okay, and how do you deal with this? When –
Clara: So the number one thing that I learned is uh other than prepare and of course, whic I was and having thought about all the questions that could come, and think about them, but I cannot be alone in front of the audience.
Clara: It is not good. There was a psychiatrist, a psychologist who came, who is also a somatic experiencing coach, so she works a lot with emotions in the body, she came once and she said, you know what? You need to have someone doing the Q and A with you that’s very close to you physically, so that they can be a sponge, and they get – they can absorb 50% of the violence that’s directed to you. So it’s very rare, you know, most of the time it’s very emotion – you know, people cry, people being so grateful, and enthusiastic, and joyful, but, when there is just one person with violence, it is so much, you know obviously it’s not physical violence but it gets to – it feels physical because it’s like fire in their eyes, and it’s more than the words they’re saying, it’s the emotion and the energy. Sometimes I’m shaking. But I noticed that it’s true – if I have someone near me, it’s not the same. Someone who can also while I take a breath they can talk. And it’s also helpful because I feel like I’m a parrot; I’m repeating, sometimes it’s every night, the past 8 nights it was every night, and I feel like I’m saying the same things – and when they start talking and I know what they’re going to say –
Clara: One place in France, there was a young woman who’s a mother of four, who was an unschooler, who followed me to the three cinemas, and it was great because she had her own perspective and her own experience, and so. Also, I’ve noticed, maybe it’s a coincidence, when I’m doing the Q and A with my daughter, with my baby, in the carrier, or in my arms, people don’t dare being so violent. She’s like a what do you call it, when you go to a friend…
flb: sort of protecting you?
Clara: But sometimes you know she’s having fun outside, or she’s you know, she’s with my husband or my mother, and I’m alone, and I’m much more exposed when I’m without her, I’ve noticed – it’s interesting. But also, it’s not always easy with her, because also she sometimes she’s like, [makes noises] you know like, wait a second, let me do this. I’m very often nursing her while I doing the Q and A, but obviously I’m not exposing myself, and she’s at an age, where she likes doing this all the time. Well I mean I have an audience from [inaudible], and I have to be respectful and you know, so, but we make it work. But it’s been tricky and also all those questions, someone that was very violent, she was saying, What about others’ needs? [Cuts out] selfish choice – you are making this choice for your children, but what about all the other children who have to go to school? And she was so angry. So what I do is, I keep thinking about it, and I post on um, there’s a Claudia’s Yahoo List, it’s like 300 or 500 families in the Paris neighborhood, and a lot of them I know. And so I say, what do you guys think, what would you say about that? And also, [French] the French association, I say, what do you guys think? And I keep – you know what, it’s non-stop. Some people are very violent about, the little children in Africa; they are so happy to go to school, and so then I did a Q and A with a Persian Guy, he says, someone said, so how do you explain, that in certain countries, like in Africa it is such a blessing to be able to go to school? I think it is so funny that he said – propaganda!
Clara: All the teachers, they went [sound, possibly catching their breath? Laughter.] Was so shocked, he said, of course you are viewing Africa with a colonialistic view. You realize how we are – we stole their culture? There’s a great documentary – have you seen it? It’s called, “Schooling the World.”
Clara: It’s on the Internet for – you’ve seen it. So, people who think from that perspective, they think of Africa like, we’ve got to save them, and they don’t realize how arrogant that is.
Clara: That we’re saying our culture, our model of education is the right one, and you all need to sit with a blackboard, and do it our way, because that’s the way.
flb: Yeah. But how do you deal with this um I’d say usual doubts that people have, like children don’t socialize, when they don’t go to school, you keep them too close to you, or um, homeschooling and unschooling is only for um, very strong religious people…
Clara: One by one because otherwise I’m not going to remember. The second one you just said, um I have a very good perspective that I like is to say, Ok, well first of all they are not with their family all day, they – they are with other – you know, let’s say one father went down to working four days a week and the mother three days a week, then there are one or two days when their child is in another family a lot of the times. But one question is, when you send your child to school, and they are little, they only have one teacher, all day, all year, so and usually, especially in public school the parents did not choose that teacher, and don’t know that teacher, and that teacher doesn’t necessarily share the same values, but the child spends more hours awake with that person than with his parents, so that person is actually passing on his or her values to the child, more than the parent is. So when you worry about the influence of an adult, of course, with unschooling we work on ourselves to have as little expectations and giving our children as much freedom as we can, but of course pass we’ve got to pass on values and influence them somehow. But, is it better that it’s someone that you don’t even know, who might have totally different values who’s going to be the main influence in the childrens’ life when they’re like sponges and when they learn and they’re building who they are going to be for the rest of their lives? That’s the question. And I often say, that’s what would be my main concern maybe if my child went to school is, that person, my child would be spending more hours awake with that person, than with family members and friends. So, that’s a good question to ask I think – they don’t think about it.
flb: In Germany, people who are critical with unschooling or homeschooling, they say that it’s important for the children to see other values and other mindsets than what their parents or their family thinks or tells them.
Clara: Right, so what I answer [inaudible] answers, is that those children they are in the world, so they are exposed to the whole alphabet from a to z of values, of cultures, of backgrounds. I say, when I went to school, to public school, it was in the [6th?] in the [French] in Paris, so, it was only one type of profile, it was, you know, in order to go to the public school in the [6th?] you needed to live in the [6th? French]. And so that was – my dad was an orthopedic surgeon, and my mom a fashion designer, my friends were the daughter of [name], the son of the minister, you know. There was no immigrant other than Portugese, because the concierge porters were Portugese, but there was only white people, and so no other culture, and no other social background. So that was very poor, and of course they were all born between ‘71 and ’72, and when I turned 17, and I was finally in the real world, I finally met the French society
Clara: And was exposed to the French values, culture, and ethnicities, and the real French world, you know. So, I always like to say, to me, it’s the opposite if you’re locked in between four walls, you’re only exposed to what’s within those four walls. And that’s of course it has to be limited because it’s a small space and a small sample of the population. What else did you say, you said socialization, yeah, I mean I always quote Alex Thomas – something that he said that’s not, that didn’t make it into the film, but he was saying, and of course because he’s a professor of uh…
Clara: University – yeah – University of London [talking over one another: inaudible – hope people are?] impressed, and um, he said his own children, his son and daughter, they went with the whole mainstream, you know, conventional school system till the end, and he said they crossed each other in the hallway at school, and they didn’t say hello to each other, because it wasn’t something that was done, to talk to someone from a different age group. And he said, at the time, you know, he was thinking, because of course at the university they were talking about socialization in school, and he was thinking to himself, that’s the worst type of socialization you can think of, to not talk with someone because they are from a different age group.
Clara: I always share my own surprise and actually because he went through the same surprise when [inaudible Athen was a ?] and he went to the first education and otherwise gathering in England, and he saw what I saw; teenagers, boys, with a big baby in their arms, or playing with a toddler for a very long time, and we had never seen that before. And then I think, wow, but it should be natural, you know. Maybe in more traditional cultures, it is natural, but I had never seen that. But a teenager’s not usually interested in a baby, I thought, and then I realized that maybe it’s something that we learn in school, to separate and to only play – and also to only play with boys if you are a boy, because it’s not cool to play with a girl; so I think that people – maybe that’s not something that we’re born with, maybe that’s something that we learn in school.
flb: Yes. So, it’s – for you, it’s not a question that – there’s no possibility how school could change to be a choice for you for your children?
Clara: So I avoid to talk about my children in order to leave them alone and not expose them –
Clara: Especially my son, I want him to be left alone, I don’t want people to start looking at him and expect to see a result of this technique, you know. So I say, oh my son, you know, if he asks to go to school, he will go – he’s never asked. But, um, and honestly if he asks to go to school, maybe when he’s older, maybe not now, but when he’s you know, past 10 or something, if he asks to go, you know, um, but, well, well, ok school, for the [main?] school, I think it would have to be completely – especially in France, I don’t know, someone told me 37 – I’m really bad with numbers – million/billion Euros, something ridiculous that is spent, and it increases social discrepancies. People are more uh, it’s more unfair at the end of school than before, it increases violence, I mean, failure for instance. So there – I think it needs to be completely destroyed and rebuilt from scratch, because people keep trying to reform, and adding a little stones, just the base is just wrong, and what is the goal? I think the goal was something that is no longer necessary today, was to create [the desired?] workers and citizens who would just learn to, they want us to learn to write enough so that we can fill a tax report, and so that we can read instructions on the manual, in order to become emancipated. So, as soon as their experiment for…
flb: The picture’s frozen; I can’t hear you anymore.
[Skype dialing sounds]
Clara: Sort of like the democratic school in a way, except they don’t have the trials, where everyone, you know, is judging. It’s a learning center, like [Naomi Aldrich?] says, like a library but times 100, you know, where this school that’s opening in France, it’s from age 10 to 20, where, you know, you can make your own schedule, or no schedule, or um… But, ideally, you know, I went to the opening and I said, ideally it should be age 1 to 100, because why should we stop having the rights to learn when we’re 20? I want to keep learning. So, I believe in that, places where you can go and learn and even at age 40, learn a new craft or change careers or keep getting so, yeah, where parents are welcome to go learn as well.
flb: Yeah, and children can go with their parents or without them.
Clara: Cause we have libraries and we can have more just the libraries. And we can ask someone to come and teach a subject that several people want to learn together, and they make a little group, and you can do gatherings with other people to discuss a subject. And you have all the resource. I recently discovered the co-working spaces; we did a screening at a co-working space in Berlin.
Clara: And so it could be a co-learning space and you know what? And someone said, and it shouldn’t be separated from the co-working space, so that the parents can be at the co-working space, and the children are at the co-learning space, and all together.
flb: Yeah, we tried to build this up in several cities because, the problem is for several parents who say, yeah, I would like to do this; I would like to unschool my children, but I have to work, and my husband has to work. How can we deal with this? So, um, when you are self employed, it depends on which job, but you can, um, do a better participation for both parents, but if you aren’t self employed, or for some things it isn’t possible to do that with your children with you, and so the co-working spaces with children, try to fill a little of this space.
Clara: But I think a lot of people who were not self employed and who quit their job, because actually they didn’t like what they were doing, so they found another way. Or others who like what they are doing, but they’re just removing one day, and or they talk to their boss, and their boss said, oh, some of what you’re doing, you can do at home. And so, they – for the boss, what matters is that they’re doing their job for the enterprise. So if they do it at 10pm from their home, it doesn’t matter, because what they’re doing is good for the company, so they said, ok, we don’t want to lose you, so do it from 10pm to 1am, half of your job, you know, and the other half that you have to do at work, you come three days a week, you know. Everyone is inventing, because we – when they’re motivated, they, they find a way, and then the um, like Michael was saying, the community, a lot of people their child is spending two days with someone from the community, and that’s enabled them to work fully during those two days, and the other days the parents are [inaudible] there are so many ways that I’ve seen people do it. Of course, if they have grandparents or aunts in the city, it helps, but a lot of them don’t today. Sometimes because they’re working, they have money to pay someone one day a week, to be with the child and take the child to the activities. Oftentimes they’ve also realized that what they’re making is not that- when they say they have to work, they realize that, for those who wanted alternative schools or that cost some money, they realize oh, it’s actually going to cost more; I have to do a job where I have to make more money than what I have to pay the school, and the after school care. And so, but some people still say, hey, even if it doesn’t make any money, I still want to keep my job, and that’s a choice. Those who want to be with their children, and give their children that freedom of learning, even if the children are not with them but with someone else, I found all kinds of um, crazy ways that people are making it work, and really diminishing their costs. Someone in France wrote a book, [French, name], who um, she has a whole chapter on the global choice. It’s not just how I’m going to let my children be instructed, it’s the whole life – every choice is questioned – in terms of how much is coming in every month, how much do we really need, how much is essential, what is superfluous. What – you know, they’re not consumers, and um, that’s a choice.
Clara: They produce so much more from what they are consuming, and they’re really not buying much new. Um, a lot of trading, a lot of support from the community, a lot of creativity –so, I had something – I had a list of questions about school, you know when you say, um, reforming school, it was a list from [French: name] I really liked, you are actually recording, right?
Clara: Cause I’m talking so fast I should not be. This was a cool list, and I’m going to try to translate from French as I go. It’s from [French: name], it was in a conversation with someone had who emailed the production and she was a teacher, and she was about school reform. So he had said, I would like to know a few precisions about your ideal school. This school, would it be mandatory? Would it be formed from same age group? If the teacher had to leave – if the teacher needed to leave the classroom, would he or ask the children for an authorization to leave the room? If a subject does not interest a student, would there be something else interesting for him or her at that specific time? If the subject interests the student, would they be able to spend more time on it? What would be the role of the adult, or the adults present in the environment? Would there be – would they be teachers? Would the subjects go in front of the students with precise time and rhythm, or not? Would the exchanges always happen in the same place, with the same people? So that’s just food for thought, but it’s interesting, you know. If all the answers you know, are um, that, actually, you can say all the answers were no, um yeah, if all the answers are in the sense of freedom, then why not? And we don’t need to call it school. I like learning center, like Naomi Aldrich said, you know, cause school has so much weight on it, but I don’t mind if you call it school. [French: name], he is a teacher in France – now he’s retired [inaudible] conferences, but he had a school – he had a classroom, it was in a small village in France for 35 years, and he says he did what we show in the film, but it was a small village, so he was the teacher and the school director, so he was [inaudible] doing what he wanted, of course there was inspectors once a year, and so there was no subject, um, no schedule, it was one class from 4 to 12 year old, in the same classroom, it was all, you know, so okay, great. And the parents were welcome, and the parents were a big part of it. But at the same time [name] always asks, why would I, at a certain age, put my children somewhere and separate – why? Do you know? It seems very arbitrary if you’re not doing it – you’re like, why not just keep living.
Clara: Yeah, and not always together, you know, sometimes we don’t see each other for a whole day.
flb: Yeah (Clara says something inaudible at the same time)
Clara: They’re so busy, and you know of course, they’re so busy doing their own work. And of course they need guidance, and they go ask questions, but not necessarily to their parents; and they know how to ask questions when they need help and support. When they don’t, just leave them alone.
flb: Yeah but then you need other people to be around, like friends, like a nanny, like a grandparent.
Clara: Like a teenager unschooler
flb: Yes (Clara says something inaudible at the same time)
Clara: a little pocket money and it’s much less than paying a babysitter. Or sometimes they do it for nothing, out of friendship. And sometimes with the community, what I think is really beautiful is, there’s a trade, but it’s not necessarily 3 hours with my children, 3 hours with your children. It’s, in LA my friend [Raha?] she spent a day taking my son with her son, and then I would cook dinner for them, you know, it’s not 3 hours / 3 hours, you know, it’s not like that, and she said, sometimes I said, hey, why don’t you and Ericson go see a movie, you know, I want to stay with Arden so that you can have some time, do maybe a date with your husband, or something. And she said, hey, you know, you give to other people, I give to you, I’m not worried that I’m not going to get back, you know, it’s not like that. And it’s so beautiful. Those who can give their time, they give it, cause they’re happy, and they’re with their children, and it’s great to have another child the child can play with, and the other person might give to someone else their time, maybe 3 years later.
flb: Yeah, the people you met were they always having unschooling communities around?
Clara: Some yes, and some no, like [inaudible], they’re very more autonomous, you know, they don’t really, they didn’t think it was necessary, they said [French], was with people everywhere in the world. But also there was a lot of people who found it very difficult to not – to do without the community because especially in France the school is so many hours, and that’s so many hours of homework, during the week it’s hard for children not going to school to find –
people and time, yeah, and then there’s the holidays; and the parents, they take their children on vacation because it’s the only time they can go, so the community – it’s really helpful to have a list, where you can say, hey, we’re going – even if it’s not a cultural activity, like, of course, cultural activities are great because they can go to the museum or the theater and they get the school rate you know [as some of their group?], so that’s great, or to do classes of Japanese; if one child wants to do, they put hey, who wants to do – and then they pay for 12 children, they pay, a rate that everybody can pay. But, even if it’s only, hey we want to go to the park on Friday, that’s great, because those children are not going to school, so they can go and be flexible.
flb: Yes. Did you think or even know about unschooling before you had children?
Clara: No, I could have – I always say, wow, I could have gone all through – you know, my children could have turned 20, and I would not have known, probably, if I had been in France when I had my children. Cause none of my friends know, and of course none of my friends does it, but not even do they know that – I never met unschooling, even homeschooling, they didn’t – I don’t know a single person who knew in France that it was possible. So, when I first told friends in France about my project, their first reaction was, did you join a sect? Crazy. So, I was so lucky that I had my children in the US, in LA, because LA is very alternative. So I think that’s why I was exposed to even natural childbirth; I would probably not have done that in France, because my dad was a surgeon, and a lot of doctors in the surrounding, and I think I would have thought, thank God for paradural [note: did she mean epidural?], because I don’t want to suffer – it’s masochistic to suffer, because I would have thought that.
Clara: Thank God, I was blessed, and I was able to have both children in water, and they were the most amazing moments in my life, and um, same with, what do you call, extended breast feeding, which I like to call just natural breast feeding, no arbitrary stop date, you know. So I don’t know if I would have been exposed to that choice, of just trusting my children to know when they are ready to stop, and all those things. Maybe the sling, yes, because that’s now, yes, you see people wearing
flb: Yes, that’s true
Clara: [my mom?] even did it, and then homeschooling – I don’t think so, no, no! And unschooling, no way. I feel like I’m so lucky and that’s why I’m so happy to just be able to pass on the information to other people, because I think it’s not right that we don’t know. And sometimes people say, hey, but you know school, lalalala, but I’m like hey, I’m not in war against school, it’s just what I’m doing here is I’m just telling you about a possibility, and you know, for some people, it’s good to know, because they didn’t. And if their child is being bullied, and they don’t even know that there’s a possibility to not go to school, it’s just not right; how can they choose, really, if they don’t know what all of the options are?
flb: To inform people that they have a choice or they might have a choice if they go this way. Yeah.
flb: Yeah, I’m just looking but I think we are already through um, in how many countries did the film start already?
Clara: Ah, so it was released in theaters in France, Luxemburg – 2 very small theaters, and like 0 people at every session, 1, 2 people, in um yeah Luxemburg, they’re not ready at all. Switzerland, Belgium – very small [inaudible], Switzerland, Belgium and then the other countries it has been screenings. Rio, Brazil – it was the Rio Film Festival; and so then I was invited to all kinds of screenings – Rio and Sau Paulo Universities, and a screening in front of all the – there was the most famous psychoanalyst in Brazil, who – an audience of psychoanalysts, I was very scared but it was actually great, yeah, somebody from the audience said, so, this guy, he’s an authority; he’s the most famous and well paid psychoanalyst in all of Brazil. This guy from the audience, he said, so what do psychoanalysts have to say against the type of learning that is suggested in this film? And he said, psychoanalysts have nothing against the type of learning that is suggested in this film. This film has a lot to expose against the traditional learning system. The psychoanalyst has nothing against it, you know, what it’s exposed – so he said it ode to [ruso? – an homage? to ruso?] and an ode to nature and said, I would lose my job if all the children grew up this way. It was good. And then, so, Argentina, we’re going to do also screenings organized by an unschooling mother who’s very active in the [inaudible, interrupted by beep] – they are calling me – and then um, there were screenings in Spain, Italy, Hungary. Now there’s going to be one in Amsterdam.
flb: Thank you very much, for your time, Clara!
Clara: Thank you very much! Bye bye.