[Transcript] – How A Steady Diet Of Standard Education Is Choking The Creativity, Health & Fitness Out Of Our Kids And What You Can Do About It.

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Transcripts

Podcast from: https://bengreenfieldfitness.com/2015/08/what-is-unschooling/

[00:00] Introduction/Sheer Strength Labs

[02:33] About Ben Hewitt

[8:26] Ben’s Place and a Typical Day for Him and His Family

[20:43] Children’s Economy of Unschooling

[28:24] Schooling System & Homeschooling

[33:59] Unschooling

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[42:11] Mentorships & Internships

[47:19] Reading Without “Formal Education”

[53:17] Unschooling in the Urban World

[56:38] Alternative Education Models

[1:01:11] Working Together in a Group

[1:06:07] Seth Godin’s Hybrid Model

[1:14:30] What Ben’s Kids Want To Be

[1:24:18] End of the Podcast

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In this episode of The Ben Greenfield Fitness Show:

“There are so many reasons we’ve chosen to avoid the institutionalized educational system.  One of them is that it is very difficult to be a part of that system without getting sucked in to what I call the culture of extracurricular.” “School is the advertising agency that teaches us that we need our society as it is.”  “You know, we’re taking kids at a very young age in the conventional school system, and we are compelling them to be inside and basically sedentary for a huge part of their life.”

Ben: Hey folks, it’s Ben Greenfield here, and as I’ve mentioned before on a few podcasts, I was actually home schooled my whole life, K through 12.  So I was pretty intrigued by a recent article that I read in Outside Online.  I just want to read you a little bit of this article.  It goes like this.

“In early September, in a clapboard house situated on 43 acres just outside a small town in northern Vermont, two boys awaken.  They are brothers; the older is 12, the younger 9, and they rise to a day that has barely emerged from the clutches of dark.  It is not yet autumn, but already the air has begun to change, the soft nights of late summer lengthening and chilling into the season to come.  Outside the boys’ bedroom window, the leaves on the maples are just starting to turn.

School is back in session and has been for two weeks or more, but the boys are unhurried. They dress slowly, quietly.  Faded and frayed thrift-store camo pants. Flannel shirts. Rubber barn boots.  Around their waists, leather belts with knife sheaths. In each sheath, a fixed-blade knife.

By 6:30, with the first rays of sun burning through the ground-level fog, the boys are outside.  At some point in the next hour, a yellow school bus will rumble past the end of the driveway that connects the farm to the town road.  The bus will be full of children the boys’ age, their foreheads pressed against the glass, gazing at the unfurling landscape, the fields and hills and forests of the small working-class community they call home.

The boys will pay the bus no heed.  This could be because they will be seated at the kitchen table, eating breakfast with their parents.  Or it might be because they are already deep in the woods below the house, where a prolific brook trout stream sluices through a stand of balsam fir; there is an old stone bridge abutment at the stream’s edge, and the boys enjoy standing atop it, dangling fresh-dug worms into the water.  Perhaps they won’t notice the bus because they are already immersed in some other project: tillering a longbow of black locust, or starting a fire over which to cook the quartet of brookies they’ve caught.  They heat a flat rock at the fire’s edge, and the hot stone turns the fishes’ flesh milky white and flaky.

Or maybe the boys will pay the bus no heed because its passing is meaningless to them.  Maybe they have never ridden in a school bus, and maybe this is because they’ve never been to school.  Perhaps they have not passed even a single day of their short childhoods inside the four walls of a classroom, their gazes shifting between window and clock, window and clock, counting the restless hours and interminable minutes until release.

Maybe the boys are actually my sons, and maybe their names are Fin and Rye, and maybe, if my wife, Penny, and I get our way, they will never go to school.

Hey, a father can dream, can’t he?”

Well today, I have that dreaming father on the podcast, and you’re going to learn everything you need to know about this concept of unschooling, alternative education models, sustainable homestead living and a lot more, and even if you don’t live in the sticks, you’re going to get plenty of advice about how to raise your own children or perhaps help people around you raise their children to become more independent, free thinking, resilient kids who know how to thrive in unpredictable situations.  My guest is Ben Hewitt, and Ben’s the author of “Home Grown: Adventures in Parenting off the Beaten Path, Unschooling, and Reconnecting with the Natural World”.  I had a chance to meet Ben, when he and I were both speaking at a food festival in Vermont last month.  He’s the real deal, his kids are the real deal, and I’m honored to have him on the show.  Ben, how’re you doing, man?

Mr. Hewitt:  I’m great, thanks so much for having me, and thanks for that great intro.  I haven’t lived to that piece in so long, and it’s kind of fun to hear you read it.

Ben:  Yeah, it’s always interesting to have other people read something that you’ve written.

Mr. Hewitt:  Yeah, it’s kind of surreal actually.

Ben:  Yeah, exactly.

Mr. Hewitt:  I thought, I always avoided it.  My publishers generally send me the audio book versions of my books, and I’ve never once listened to one because there’s something that’s just so surreal about thinking about someone else reading my work that I haven’t been able to get my head around, but you did a great job.  I appreciate it, thank you.

Ben:  Yeah, it’s strange.  I’m actually writing a book of fiction right now that I originally started for my boys, but that I’m now publishing, and I’m recording the audio version, but it’s very strange because my kids will open the phone, and they’ll sit there listening to the audio book of me reading to them while I’m sitting beside them not reading to them.

Mr. Hewitt:  One thing I’ve only just figured out as a writer, and we’re getting way off topic here but at the same time we’re talking about writing as kind of interesting, is actually really beneficial to me.  I found, I don’t know what your experience is, but I found this incredibly beneficial to me if I read my own work to myself out loud.  And I’ve just started doing that in the last couple of years, and it’s made a tremendous difference, I think, in the quality of my work.  It really allows me to catch a lot of repetitions that I might not otherwise catch or others just sort of awkward sentence structures.  If any of your listeners are actually writers, I really encourage them to try that.  It actually makes a huge difference.

Ben:  I completely agree.  One of the best things/most annoying things that I’ve ever done is to record book, chapter by chapter as I write it because I go through and do extensive editing afterwards when I realize.  I’m either a), not writing the way I talk, or b), I’ll use the word “The” two times in the row?  Never noticed that until I actually read it.

Mr. Hewitt:  Yeah, it’s amazing that those stuff that your eye just does not pick up because you’re assuming that there’s something there.  You have on your mind this idea of what’s on the page and so your eye does not pick up what’s actually there sometimes.

Ben:  Yeah.  So you were just telling me before we started recording, and you kind of arrived back home to your Vermont homestead, and just to give us an idea about your life.  Tell me a little bit about your place and what a typical day looks like for you and your family.

Mr. Hewitt:  Sure, yeah.  So our place is as described in that little intro you read.  We have about 43 acres, and after years of really struggling to find, I guess or describe our place to other people.  I finally sort of came up with a response that people would ask me about our place and say well, it’s like a turn-of-the-century, Vermont hill farm, just not the most recent turn of the century.  So we live on a hillside, we have about 10 acres in pasture.  I’m looking out right now through the dormer, my dad asked us in a dormer in my office, and I can see out over a field, and I can see.  We have six cows grazing, I can see our blueberry patch.  It’s a really diverse place.

We have a lot of different fruits and vegetables, lot of different animals.  We do a lot of work with the land both in terms of animal husbandry, growth raising food, also producing our fuel in the form of firewood and saw logs at the sawmill, and I harvest saw logs.  So as you might expect, I guess, from that description, what our days look like are really dependent, are very seasonal.  It’s very dependent on season and what’s happening in a given season.  And actually it’s sort of ironic that we’re talking about this ’cause right now, we’re in a process of transitioning to a piece of land a few miles north of here, so a lot of my days are taken up by the actual active building a barn and a house that we’re working on right now.

Ben:  So, you’re moving?

Mr. Hewitt:  We are, yeah.  Yeah, it’s quite a process.  It’s a huge event in our life, and one that we actually probably never expected would happen, but it also feels really, really healthy and really good, and we’re transitioning almost all of our animals up there.  We’re going to do a lot of the same things but on a different piece of land.

Ben:  Cool, so as far as how you make a living, is it all on this farm.  I mean obviously, you’re making some money off the books that you’ve written, and incidentally I know that this unschooling book, this book “Home Grown” that you wrote.  That was one of your first titles, but you’ve since written another book, and that was the book that you were speaking about on the food festival about soil.  Correct?

Mr. Hewitt:  Well, yeah.  It’s a book.  It’s called the “Nourishing Homestead”, and it’s a homesteading book with a focus.  So one of the things that we really focus on here is producing what we term, and what is relatively commonly-termed, nutrient dense foods, and to us that means a couple of different things.  One, it means that we place a great emphasis on the foods that are calorically nutrient-dense in the form of high quality pastured, animal products, but it also means that we do a lot of work with the soil to create the most biologically active and vibrant soil as possible with the idea being that creating biologically active and vibrant soils will create biologically active and vibrant fruits and vegetables, which theoretically will create vibrant human beings.

So a lot of what we do is work with the soil, and you heard me talk a little bit about some of that at the Shelburne Farms event.  But it’s a broader book than that.  It talks a lot about our live with livestock.  We really, really value our work with animals.  It’s a huge part of our life, and our work, in other aspects of sort of providing for ourselves and for others in our community.  The independent, self-sufficient homestead is not one that resonates that much with us.  We really believe in what we call interdependence with other people in our immediate community.  So we rely on a lot of other people, and I’d like to think that a lot of other people rely on us and that’s a big part of what we’re trying to do also.

Ben:  Cool.  What are your kids up to right now if you were to hazard a guess while you’re here recording?  What are they up to?

Mr. Hewitt:  Yeah, our older son right now is at a week-long wilderness camp, sleep-away camp.  So he’s gone this week.  And our younger son and my wife, I know right now are up exploring an 11,000 acre wildlife management area that’s right next to the land that we’re building on.  So they’re scouting that for places, for hunting and trapping and camping opportunities.

Ben:  Gotcha, and your primary mode of living now is selling these foods and these things that you’re farming?

Mr. Hewitt:  Oh yes, I sort of glossed right over that.  So I would say the bulk, one thing that we endeavored to do always is to make money by not spending money, so that’s a big part of what we do.  So we pay ourselves to do a lot of the things that many people in contemporary American society pay others to do for them.  So we produce about 90% of our own food.  We produce most of our building materials like I said, all our firewood, and the bulk of our building projects ourselves elude.  We have a little bit of hired help, but we’re definitely doing yourself first, and this enables us to subsist on I think what most people would consider, almost an impoverishment level income. (laughs)  So, that income I earn primarily through writing and speaking.  Books are a part of it although, I don’t know what your experience, Ben, as an author.  My experience, it’s really interesting.  For years, I wrote for magazines full time, to writing my first book about seven years ago, and it’s an interesting dichotomy writing for magazines.  I actually made better money.  Writing for books, it has a little bit more cache, and you get a little bit more attention.  No one ever wanted to interview me when I was writing magazine articles, but the money, at least for myself, it’s not good at all.  It’s very much subsists level ages.

Ben:  Yeah, it’s kind of funny.  People assume that if you’re on Amazon and if you can find your book at the bookstore, you must drive a Ferrari, and I’ve definitely found that not to be the case.  As a matter of fact, I think I made the least amount of money of a New York Times bestseller that I wrote, just because once your account for the time and the fact that the publisher gets most of the money anyways, writing a book is more an exercise in spreading a message around the world, not getting a paycheck.

Mr. Hewitt:  Yeah, totally true.  People really seem to really understand it best if I draw some parallels to the music industry where everyone seems to understand that there are a handful of really breakout stars, and there are a lot of people who basically pay to play, and there is a group in the middle.  I sort of like them myself too, the local rock bands or the regional rock bands struggling to make ends meet, playing three gigs a week.  That’s kind of what my writing looks like.  That’s not a lament.  I think that’s great, I’m super, super fortunate.  It’s just the reality.  I did an interview on All Things Considered which is just sort of the holy grail for an author is to get on All Things Considered.

Ben:  Well, yeah.  Assuming that we’re not talking about The Ben Greenfield Fitness Show, yes.

Mr. Hewitt:  Right, right.  Sorry.  Yeah.  Present companies. (laughs) And our friend Bren went to my wife and said, “Oh, I heard Ben on All Things Considered.”  She goes, “At least you’ll be able to buy a new car now”, and you know it just doesn’t work that way.  And I have seen, I was sort of like, “wow, this is going to be great.  This book’s going to really take off”, and yeah there was like a week or two where its sales sort of surged, and then it just sort of leveled right out, and again this is not a lament.  It’s just so that people understand what the realities of being a working, I call myself a working class writer.  That’s essentially what I am.

Most writers in this day in age, they’ve got a teaching gig or they’ve got some other side gig.  I have one good friend who is also a full time, working class writer, but for most of us sort of in that middle ground were we haven’t really had a breakout book, but we are fortunate enough to be at least getting paid something, there aren’t many people sort of doing that, writing solely for print there.

Ben:  Yeah.

Mr. Hewitt:  Actually I don’t.  I mean I do some speaking.  I’m working on an online workshop right now that I’m co-hosting with a friend, and like I said, our food bill is minimal and a lot of other bills that people have, we don’t have a mortgage.  We were really fortunate to buy land at the time when land was inexpensive, and we built our own place out of pocket.  So a lot of the expenses that most people just sort of assume are part of contemporary American life.  We don’t have, and that’s hugely liberating for us.

Ben:  Yeah, our stories, or at least our current lives, are a little bit parallel in that respect, and that we grow almost all of our own food here with the goats and the chickens, and many, many raised garden beds along with a land that we’re fortunate to have plenty of wild edibles on, and when you get to that point a), most of your food comes from the land and b), you spend very little time driving around, spending money on gas, spending time which is money hunting down foods, and frankly it’s kind of a chore now for me even getting in the car and leave.  Just because I can live up here.

Mr. Hewitt:  Well you bring up such a great point, and actually I’ll bring that right around to education for just a minute because it is something I address.  I talk about it in the book, in “Home Grown”, and something that we sort of watch in amazement, and really, I mean, there are so many reasons we’ve chosen to avoid the institutionalized educational system.  One of them is that it is very difficult to be a part of that system without getting sucked in to what I call the culture of extracurricular.  And I’ve seen how many families that just get totally pulled off their axis in really, really unhealthy ways, and maybe it’s great for some families.  I can’t say that I don’t know everyone’s individual situations, circumstances, but I have seen how.  One thing it does is really pull people in a direction of incredible business and hurriedness, no time to cook.  They end up eating really poorly.  They end up eating out a lot, and eating low-quality foods that are really, really expensive, and then all of a sudden wondering why on a $60,000 middle class income, they’re struggling to make ends meet.  I mean, our income last year was $22,000 for a family of four, and we live really high on the hog on that kind of money.  So these things, one thing I find is that as soon as you start talking about food and pretty soon you end up talking about economy, and pretty soon you end up talking about education, and these things are all incredibly interconnected.

Ben:  Yeah, I agree.  I went through a period of time in my life from the time my kids were probably about 4 or 5 until 7 years old, well the beginnings of 7 years old, in which I felt compelled to go out and get the local sports camp, the magazine when it’ll come out, and figure out which camp each week.  How I could finagle the schedule to have my children each camp, and sure that I could somehow, almost like a UPS driver planning their route.  Like getting from the piano to the tennis to the gymnastics, back to the sports camp, and ensure that my children were not falling behind in terms of the number of lessons and life skills that they were picking up.

This summer in particular has changed dramatically for me in that my kids have been home for 8 to 10 hours during the day, almost to an annoying extent.  And what I’ve done, I’ve recently posted this to Instagram, now in the morning I actually fill up an entire note card full of activities from the check off during the day.  Everything from making paintball targets and practicing their target shooting, to collecting three different plants that they’ve never seen before that we can identify in Wikipedia, to learning how to cook one new bug to just everything that I can find for them to do.  Simply because they are sting, and we’re not chauffeuring, and to bring this full circle to how we got on to this.  It’s also very cheap.  We haven’t spent a great deal of money this summer, I can tell you that.

Mr. Hewitt:  Yeah.  Well, okay, there’s so much there to talk about and dig in to, so I’ll take the last one first because it’s pertinent to our conversation about economics which is, I mean that in and of itself is in some ways is a contributing factor to our decision to keep our kids out of school.  I think it was Ivan, I never know if I should say Illich or Illich, but he wrote the book called “Deschooling Society”, and one of his quotes was, I might be paraphrasing here but, “School is the advertising agency that teaches us that we need our society as it is,” and I think that there’s a lot of ways to unpack that, but in the context of economics, it is definitely, particularly through the socialization aspect, the way in which our children are often first really exposed to some rampant consumerism.  I mean, perhaps it comes in before that if they’re born into a family where  material consumption is the status quo or excessive material consumption, but you’re right about it being really cheap.  I mean, our kids are totally unselfconscious about the clothing they wear.

I mean in that intro, I mentioned for this piece I wrote for Outside, I mentioned about the faded thrift store camo.  I mean all those with the exception of maybe like socks and the occasional piece of footwear or something that they’ve made or my wife has made them, they all come from the thrift store, and they are completely unselfconscious.  My 13 year old son might be getting to a point where he might not be too keen to wear pink.  He might have enough awareness at this point in his life, but that would’ve been very recent.  I think that he would’ve not worn a pink shirt, and he may still actually do it.  So they don’t still have this awareness because they’re not inundated and their desire, I’m not saying they never want things.  They have very passionate interest on being on the land and hunting, and trapping, and other wilderness skills, and our older son is an avid guitar player, so he does have some material desires around that, but they have zero desire for the contemporary, electronic, technological devices, and part because of that and because that’s not part of their sphere, part of their world.  They’re not pulled into the mass media and the pop culture icons of the day.  And so all of these things make them actually really cheap keepers.  It’s a great point.

Ben:  I agree.  The most expensive piece of technology in our homes that our children use are iPod Shuffles which I upload podcasts, adventures in Odyssey, Sparkle Stories, all sorts of little things for them to listen to, and that’s about as techy as we get.  And I will readily admit because I know people are jumping through the airwaves right now screaming, “Oh, your children are going to be incompetent with the iPhone.  They’re never going to become App Developers, and they’re probably not going to know their way around iTunes or Google all that well”, and I will admit that probably is the case.  They’re a little less handy with Google than the average child, but I’m thinking that they’re going to be able to pick that up when they need to pick it up because it’s not rocket science.

Mr. Hewitt:  Right, I agree with you on that, and I will also say that I hear this from people sometimes, and if you read any of the comments pertaining to that outside story.  There are more than one or two people leveling the accusation that we are not preparing our kids for the “Real World”.  And my response to that is that what is this so-called “Real World”?  Are there not innumerable versions of what the real world can be? I mean, I’m looking out my window right now across our, sort of you call it, landscape here, and is there something unreal about that? It looks actually very real to me, and I am prepared to argue that actually most of what happens in institutionalized educational setting is actually really, very abstract, and in some ways, almost a parody of true meaningful learning.  So much of it is based on memorization.  So much of it is quickly forgotten.  So much of it is simply utilized to get the student to advance to the next level, and then it becomes essentially meaningless.  Most of it is taught outside the context of any kind of real world experience, and therefore there is no really sort of anchor point.

This may not be true for every kid.  So I want to be really clear when I start talking about my issues with the contemporary mainstream school system.  I don’t necessarily think that every child struggles with these things.  I do believe a majority of them do, and I also want to make a point before we get to much further into this that in general, my experience has been the people working in contemporary public school system are really, really good people who are extremely frustrated by the constraints under which they’re working.  In other words, the issue generally is not with the teachers and the people themselves, but it’s a systemic failing of the system itself.

Ben:  Yeah, and I do want to talk to you in a little bit about that educational model and about what some would argue is appropriate about that educational model, but before we get into that, I’m curious.  I mentioned in the introduction, I was homeschooled K through 12, and so for me, and well talk about this perhaps a little bit later.  I no longer homeschool my children.  I did for three years, but I’m very open to alternative educational models probably because of my upbringing.  Now for you, what was your upbringing like, particularly with regards to schooling?

Mr. Hewitt:  Yeah so, I was conventionally schooled.  I went to elementary school and junior high, and things did not become anomalous for me I guess until I turned 16.  At which point I did actually drop out of high school, and I think some people assume that because I’m now a writer and maybe living in a way or at least making my living in a way that seems to, I guess what I’m saying is that people are often are really surprised after they hear me speak or they read something I’ve written that I didn’t finish high school, and sometimes I think assumes that I was like an incredibly precocious, super brilliant kid who was just on to bigger and better things.  That actually couldn’t be further from the truth.

You know, I dropped out of school primarily because it was getting in the way of my dope smoking and heavy metal listening.  And so I spent a few years sort of kicking around, doing carpentry.  I was really into riding bicycles and skiing, I did a lot of that.  I did eventually get my GED and go back and do a couple of semesters at the state college level, but about the same time that was happening, I was actually starting at that point to freelance write as an income stream, and sort of realize that rather than go to school to learn how to write for what I hope would be income, I would just write for income.  I would sort of send myself to school, and that’s kind of what I did.  So I spent a lot of years paying my dues in the freelance magazine writing world and eventually sort of worked myself to a place where I was writing full time.

Ben:  Do you think that you wound up, and I know that this might be kind of a little bit of a personal digging question, but do you think that part of your decision, and we’ll get into that decision and how it’s manifested itself.  Your decision to unschool your kids was influenced in anyway by bitterness or resentment towards the modern education system based on your experience there?  Did you experience issues with like peer pressure or abuse or things of that nature, or was it really basically you had your own, as you said, dope and rock and roll going on, and schooling just simply wasn’t convenient for you?

Mr. Hewitt:  No, I did not feel like I experienced a lot of peer pressure or abuse beyond the abuse that I think in some ways is inherent to the system.  I mean look.  You know, we’re taking kids at a very young age in the conventional school system, and we are compelling them to be inside and basically sedentary for a huge part of their life.  And a tremendous on their waking hours, and then of course if you start adding in things like commuting to and from school depending on your circumstances.  We live in a rural area, so that’s an issue, and you add in the extra-curricular and the homework.  Pretty soon there’s not a lot of time left in the day for anything but school-related activities.  So again, some kids love that and thrive in those circumstances.  I was not one of them, and I know that there are a lot more that don’t thrive than do thrive.  At least, my experience tells me that.

So I have no doubt, Ben, that my experience, it would be almost ridiculous for me to suggest that my experience in school did not, and my relatively negative experience in school, did not somehow inform my decision, our decision.  No question, but you know, it’s not a decision that we arrived at out of spite or through angst or anger.  I can tell you that, and I will say also, I was going to say earlier in relation to talking a little bit about higher education.  I think that there’s a really important role that higher education has to play.  I’m not sure that we as a society are utilizing higher education very well at this point, but I think for those children and young adults who have come to a place in their life where they are really, really passionate about learning something, and have a really strong desire to learn something, and I think specific skills, I think higher education can be incredibly important and play a really important role in their lives and in their learning.  So my indictment of school is not across the board.  I guess that’s what I’m trying to say.

Ben:  Gotcha.  Now how would you describe unschooling?  What is unschooling for those unfamiliar with the concept?

Mr. Hewitt:  Yeah.  So there’s a lot of ways to describe it, and I do talk a lot about it in the book.  I actually don’t even like the term unschooling very much because I feel it describes what we’re not doing but not what we are doing.  So there’s two things I’d like to say to help describe what it is we’re doing or at least trying to do ’cause Lord knows we’re not doing everything perfectly.  So I often talk about self-directed, adult, facilitated life learning.  So that’s sort of the wonky description of what we’re doing, and usually by the time you’re [34:47] ______ lives are glazing over.  So that’s my guess why the term unschooling has become popularized.  The other thing that I like to point out is that I feel as if strongly, very strongly as if compulsory, institutionalized education does its best to make learning happen.  Whereas, what we’re trying to do is make room for learning to happen, and I think that is a really, really important distinction.  I also would like to point out, before I forget, that I think that what we’re doing unschooling, taken as a sort of broad, sweeping of what self-directed learning could be done really, and is I think sometimes done really, really poorly.  So there are a million different versions of how to homeschool or unschool your children.  That’s one of the things that is so great about it.

The contemporary public educational experience is sort of, relate this back to food and agriculture, is kind of a monocrop educational experience.  Whereas, what we’re doing is more of a diverse permaculture educational experience, I guess.  So that’s one of the things really great about it, but that also does leave a lot of latitude I think for people to do really, make really poor decisions about their children’s education, and I think sometimes people hear a term like unschooling or they hear self-directed, and they assume that our kids  have just like total autonomy to do whatever they want, any hour of the day, any day of the week, any week of the year, and our family at least, and I do know some unschooling families that do follow that protocol.  If the kids want to stay up ‘til midnight watching TV, they could stay up ‘til midnight watching TV.  If they want to eat ice cream for breakfast, they can eat ice cream for breakfast.  That’s not our style.  Our style of unschooling is incredibly immersive, and I’m continuing to use the term even though I’m not super fond of it.  We facilitate our children’s learning all the time.  We work with numerous mentors to facilitate their learning.  It would be for us far, far simpler and easier to just put them on a bus in the morning.

Ben:  Yeah, I agree it does introduce a great deal of complexity and involvement for example when my children are not at summer camp from 8 to 5, and I have to either keep them entertained or educated and come up with creative ways to do so that cater to their specific interest during the day, and there is a great deal of work involved.  I’m curious if you can give some concrete examples.  You used the term, I don’t remember exactly how you phrased this, but you create an environment for them to learn rather than forcing them to learn?  You said something like that.

Mr. Hewitt:  Yeah, to make room for learning to happen.

Ben:  Yeah, to make room for learning to happen.  Can you give a couple of examples of how you’ve successfully implemented that with your kids?

Mr. Hewitt:  Absolutely.  So one example, I guess this is going to involve their relationship with a mentor that’s become a huge part of their life.  So for instance, when our boys first started getting in, and this puzzled a lot of different aspects of educating our children this style, so forgive me if I sort of get off on a tangent here, but I think it’s all pertinent and all relates back.  When our boys first started becoming really interested in trapping, we were sort of dead set against it.  So Penny and I, my wife and I had a presumption that and just felt like this is not something we wanted them involved in, and we really put our foot down for actually numerous years until it became clear that this was not something that was passing.  So this is another aspect I think of parenting and education and the style of education that can be really challenging to people, for parents, which is the ways in which you can sometimes force us to examine some of our own assumptions and to sort of venture into really uncomfortable territory.

So anyway, when we finally realized that this was something that trying to squash this was just going to create a lot of conflict and a lot of unfulfilled desire on their part to explore this more.  We spent a lot of time seeking out a mentor who we felt could assist them and show them and teach them how to do this in a way that was as ethical and responsible and non-commercial as possible.  It was really important to us that they didn’t enter into something like taking animals lives just to harvest a commodity product that they were going to sell for the greatest profit.  And so we made room in our lives, and again part of this has to do, all these things so interconnected.

We were able to do that, Ben, and make room to find this person and then to bring him into our lives, and he eventually actually ended up coming and staying with us for a period of time.  We were able to do that because we had structured our lives in a way that we could make room to allow that to happen.  We’re not waking up in the morning and rushing out to the door to jobs and getting the kids off to school.  We’re not rushing home from work to get the kids from one activity to another so that they can get home and do homework.  We’re creating an environment, day in day out where our first priority in many ways is working and being able to facilitate not only their interests, but our interests.  One thing that’s been really fascinating to me is the extent to which giving the kids and ourselves latitude to pursue their passions, making room for this learning to happen has provided opportunities, created opportunities for our own learning to happen.  And I mean that both in a really sort of hands-on way.  Like the kids have taught me so much about foraging.  I’m not a halfway decent forager, and I do a lot of mushrooming, but the kids, they’re in a whole another freaking week.

Ben:  That’s happening to me too.  I’m amazed at their mental capacity for remembering flowers, and stems, and leaves, and roots because now, just the other day we were walking through the canyon to plant a trail cam because we think there’s a bear on a certain section of our land, and as we walked back, they began harvesting plants, and some of these plants, I kind of sort of remembered having learned about some point in the past, but the boys were just right off the top of their head whipping out the names, what they were going to use it for later that day.  They’re now making salads.  They’ll take a salad and use 8 different wild edibles in the salad that I’ve personally just kind of forgotten how to identify, and it really is amazing.  I agree, and you touched on an interesting point Ben about mentorship.  Mentorship and internships are not new when it comes to educating children, are they?

Mr. Hewitt:  No they’re not.  In fact, they have way more historical precedence than our contemporary understanding of what school looks like.  These were children out in their communities, often alongside their parents, but sometimes not.  I mean that was how kids learned for hundreds of years before the advent of compulsory schooling.  I think we sometimes forget the compulsory public school is a pretty new thing.  I mean we’re a pretty new country, so there’s that too.  But it’s really only since the early 1900s that we’ve had a widespread compulsory public education in this nation, and there were people around for a lot longer than that.  Prior to that, and children were learning alongside their parents in their community, and I think one thing that’s really interesting I’ve seen happen over the last, at least as long as I’ve been paying attention, it’s probably been happening a lot longer than that which is the whole idea of mentors and mentorship has really started to become something about children who have a particularly acute need.  In other words, you can make a difference.  Mentor a child in need in your area, and I think that’s, first of all, that’s great in some ways because any mentorship these kids are getting is wonderful.  But every child has, I think, a need to have to experience in relationships in their community, and that old saying.  It takes a village, and I really think that’s true.

I wanted to make one point hearkening back to our conversation a little bit about making room for learning and how we as adults and parents end up learning alongside our children.  The real truth is, I often feel like this is actually not even often.  I really feel like this is the truth.  It’s not my kids who need to be unschooled.  I’m the one who needs to be unschooled, in the sense that I grew up inside that sort of institutionalized system.  I consider myself very fortunate to have gotten out of it when I did, but I think we as parents are the ones who really need to be unschooled.  And I say that in no small part because I hear all the time from parents who want to do similar things with their kids, but simply don’t have the confidence.  They feel like oh, I don’t know enough.  I can’t teach my children, I’m just not capable, and it was Penny actually, my wife, who sort of pointed out where, and I was sort of saying where does that come from?  Why do we feel so insecure and incapable?  And her plan was, well of course, we do because most of us as adults were hustled through this system that ultimately takes learning out of our hands to great extents.  And so it’s not really any wonder that we feel incapable and lacking confidence in this department.  So I really feel like the term unschooling, when we use it to talk about children, strictly those children have never been to school is a little bit of a misnomer, and we should be thinking more along the lines of what do those of us who have gone through that system, what is it that we can be doing to expand our understanding of what education can look like and can be and feel, you know?

Ben:  Yeah, and regarding the whole internships thing, that’s actually originally the path that I set out upon.  My parents, similar to how you brought a mentor and intern to the home.  My parents had a computer programmer come to our house four times a week and teach me computer programming and sit with me.  And then by the time I was 16 and I graduated and had passed through twelfth grade and taken the Required Standardized Testing for our state which at that time was Idaho, they had set me up with a complete internship with a guy who had retired from Microsoft at the time and was simply writing software and running a software programming business, and I, perhaps someone call it, rebelled at that point and requested that I accept the invitation of the local college tennis coaches invitation to go play tennis at the college.  And so I wound up going to college and studying Sports Science and Exercise Science, so it all kind of turned out for me, but initially that was my path.  I was going down the internship path and in an internship of computer programming.

I know some people think of internships as things like whatever, horseshoeing or carpentry, but the fact is that you can do, and this was what, fifteen years ago that was something that was available, and certainly there’s even more opportunities now, and with the advent of internet and technology and things like the Khan Academy and iTunes University, many, many ways to do this.  But I want to ask you, Ben, about a very simple question.  Reading with no “formal education”, well, do your children know how to read, and if so how did they learn to read?

Mr. Hewitt:  Yeah, great question.  Thank you so much for asking, and it’s actually kind of an important one because it was their learning to read with no formal instruction was really a watershed moment for me, and what we were just talking about, confidence, and I have to admit there have been times throughout the history of this experience with our children.  I have certainly lacked some confidence in question what we’re doing, and the fact that they were not learning to read and reading at an age that would be deemed appropriate were they in public school was definitely one of those times.  So our older son learned to read at about eight and a half.  Our younger son learned to read shortly after he turned nine.  Our experience with both of them was that they went from basically not knowing how to read or at least claiming, and we’re sort of suspicious ’cause we’ve always read aloud to them a lot, and they really like to be read aloud to, so we’re a little suspicious that they maybe knew how to read prior to actually admitting it because they were afraid we’re going to stop reading aloud.  And I thought we still nightly have a family read aloud session, so even after ages thirteen and ten.

But anyway, they went from basically not learning how to read or at least claiming they didn’t know how to read to reading adult level books each in the span of, I don’t know.  I don’t want to exaggerate here, so I’m going to say a couple of months, and I think the reason for that is that they were just developmentally ready.  I think the kids in the school system are often pushed very, very hard and beyond what they’re developmentally ready for, and not related to that, I think, is that’s why we see such an increase in learning “disabilities” and also in conditions such as ADD and ADHD, but that’s maybe in a conversation for another day.  And so how did we teach them how to read, well we did not do any formal instruction, and we never sat down and said this is a vowel, this is a consonant, and this is what this sounds like etcetera, etcetera.

All we did was surround them with books and with reading, and really tremendous credit to my wife who had way more patience for reading aloud than I do, and she would read literally for hours when they were young with them on her lap, and the closest we got to formal instruction was anytime when they got to an age where it seemed like they were maybe starting to follow with their eyes along the page, she would just take her forefinger and just trace the words that she was reading across the page.  So that they could match up the sounds that were coming out of her mouth was what they were seeing on the page.  And that was it.

Ben:  It’s interesting.  I actually, sorry to interrupt, I’ve been doing the same thing with my children with music.  When I’m playing my guitar singing to them I point out the notes, and even though they’re taking piano lessons now, it helps for them to be able to associate sounds and movements with the symbols that are on paper that are associated with those notes.  It’s amazing how quickly they pick up on the difference between a quarter and a half note and the difference between an A and a G, just based off of where it lies on the page and the sound that’s coming out of your mouth or your guitar or the piano.

Mr. Hewitt: Right, and I like to say, and I really feel like this is true.  Clearly there are exceptions to this rule, and there are children out there who do have very specific challenges with certain facets of their learning who this may not work for.  Although I think also very clearly that’s very much a minority of children.  I think the overwhelming majority of children.  You essentially can’t stop them from learning how to read, so long as you’re providing reading material to them.  You know I was talking a little bit earlier about the ways of which this could conceivably be done really chorally into the great detriment of the child.  I think one of those ways would be if you were doing this in a home where books and exposure to other forms of art and just things or objects of beauty just wasn’t available.  That would be a way that this could potentially be done really poorly.  So there’s that, but yeah.  So I think that learning how to read is as natural to the overwhelming majority of children as learning how to walk, and I’ve had people say to me well, but you’re cheating them out of all those years.  They could be learning to read at five or six if they were pushed and you’re cheating them out of all those years.

What I believe is actually exactly the opposite, Ben, because I think what happens when children are pushed like that is that it just turns them off so much, and they don’t develop that lifelong love of reading.  My children are voracious readers.  They read, on average, not so much this time of year ’cause it’s high summer and there’s lots to do outside, but in the winter they read literally hours per day each, and we couldn’t stop them if we tried.  And so I think every parent knows what’s the quickest way to get your child to hate a particular food.  Well it’s to force them to eat it, and I really believe that the same is true of learning.

Ben:  Yeah, absolutely.  Now obviously you are well aware of many of the disagreements that people have and the arguments that people have against the concept of unschooling.  For example, some people will say well, I don’t live on a farm like Ben Hewitt or I don’t live out on the acreage in the boondocks like Ben Greenfield, so I can’t just put my kids outside and have them learn a great deal about the world around them, and if I try to unschool them, they’d be running up and down the apartment stairwells in Brooklyn where we live or something like that.  So what do you say to folks who may not have these wide open expanses and things like farms and homesteads?  What can they do?

Mr. Hewitt:  Well the first thing I’ll say is no people who are living in urban environments who are following a similar educational protocol, and so I think as I said earlier, I think there’s a million different ways.  There’s more than a million ’cause there’s more than a million families in the world, but there’s at least a million different ways to do this style of education, to practice this style of education.  Living on a farm or in the boondocks is not a prerequisite, and so I know families in urban environments, and in some ways actually, I see the ways in which these families are advantaged because they have much more exposure to greater diversity of culture, race, ethnicity, etcetera, etcetera.  They have exposure to resources like museums and huge libraries.  They are a lot of actually advantages to be in a more urban environment.  There are generally larger communities of families doing similar things educationally, so they have potentially more opportunities to connect with other people on a similar journey which is, I think, great and really important.  You know, I think there are circumstances again where it wouldn’t work that well.

I had a really interesting conversation on an airplane with the gentleman I was sitting next too, and he was just really chatty and I’m really chatty, so we just got to talking and pretty soon we’re talking about education, and I was telling him about what our kids do, and he had grown up in the projects in Chicago, and he said you know what, that sounds great.  But where I came from, school was our only way out, and that was really [55:47.2] ______ for me to hear because I do live in this bucolic, self-imposed axially though where we have this amazing spread.  We have all these choices at our fingertips, we can do all this great stuff, monetarily speaking, we’re not particularly privileged but we’re privileged in so many other ways.  So it was really important, and it really great for me to get that reality check that is really true for some people, and what that really makes me think about is not so much about education specifically, but now you have to start talking about a much larger conversation about why we have created and how we have created a society in which for a certain subset of the population.  That’s their only potion.

Ben:  Well, what do you think are acceptable options that, like for example, you know in that Outside Online article that you wrote, you mentioned Waldorf as an educational model?  I know some people are into Montessori schooling.  Do you have any forms of alternative education models that you particularly respect or admire or think are good solutions?

Mr. Hewitt:  I can’t say first of all that I know enough about any of them to really sit here and endorse or denigrate any of them.  So my experience primarily is with public education systems.  Waldorf, as I wrote in that article and in the book, was never really a consideration for us in no small part because of cost, and I assume the same would largely be true about Montessori.  I suspect that these options would be preferable to most contemporary, public school institutions, but for us, we just really wanted the autonomy that can only come of doing it the way we’re doing it, and I feel like we know plenty that Waldorf, there’s a very vibrant and active Waldorf school around here.  We know plenty of people, and we have friends who send their kids there and whose kids really seem to enjoy it and thrive there.  From my vantage point, I still would not be comfortable with simply the extent to which school as an institution takes over your life.  I mean, I just see the extent to which that becomes a huge part of their life, and in some ways, it’s admirable.  They’re obviously really committed to it, but it doesn’t make room for much outside of their school commitments.

Now there’s a flip side to that which, I think, is really interesting and in some ways is an endorsement of that type of schooling which is I also see the ways in which really vibrant and interdependent and interconnected communities sprang up around those schools, and that, I think, is really interesting and that’s one thing.  You know school has become such a foundational aspect in contemporary American society that for a lot of families, it forms a default community.  And we can argue about whether that’s good or bad, but it’s just true.  So our part of what we had to do and part of our facilitation is really work to create community for our children, and that’s something that I think it can be really, really challenging for parents to choose this path, and that’s probably, particularly true for those of us in rural areas.

Ben:  How have you done that?

Mr. Hewitt:  We’ve done that by being the host of a regular group that meets here, three out of four seasons.  Summer being the season when most of our friends got way too much other stuff going on to commit to that, and we’ve done that again through in a regular facilitation of mentorships with our kids and other sort of relationships in their community.  I mean, one of the advantages that I feel is really important to this style of education is that it provides much more opportunity for our children to develop, cultivate relationships with people in our community who are not necessarily their peers, and in school really, age segregates children in a way that I think is, in some ways, really unnatural.  That’s not really how the world beyond, outside of school operates.  And so our children in large partly again because we made room for them to have these experiences, have developed these relationships with mentors who are in their twenties, thirties and even older, and also with other people in their community.  In our community, if they had been in school or if they were in school, they just simply wouldn’t have time to develop these relationships.

Ben:  Now do you find that your children, because they’re gaining the ability perhaps at a faster rate than their conventionally schooled counterparts, their ability to interact with mentors or people who are older, do you find that they tend to be arrogant or aloof or stand-offish or have difficulty being team players when around children of their own age?

Mr. Hewitt:  I haven’t had that experience.  I’m trying to think.

Ben:  There’s a reason I asked Ben, and it’s because that was something that I personally dealt with.  I’ve had a hard time with and still do.  I grew into a great independent thinker and leader.  Being homeschooled myself K through 12, and even though my parents did go out of their way to put me into peer situations such as team sports or clubs, I still found that when placed in environments where we’re surrounded by peers, either in work situations or team sports situations or whatever that.  Unless I was in a position of leadership and leading others, I tended to not, shall we say, play with others quite as well with some of my conventionally schooled counterparts, and I’m just curious if you’ve noticed that among other kids who are unschooled or homeschooled.

Mr. Hewitt:  You know I have to say, I haven’t, and one of the things I’ve noticed with our kids that is really a wonderful thing to me and to my wife is their willingness to work with kids who are much younger than themselves, and I think that’s a direct result of them having been received so much tutelage and guidance from mentors.  You know school, it’s such a hierarchical relationship between the teacher and the student, and in some ways I think that’s important.  I think children need to understand the times in which it’s important to acknowledge that adults are in control and should be in control, right?  But I also think so often that relationship among teacher and student in the institutionalized system is not one of mutual respect, so I think that even though I do believe in a certain hierarchy in terms of children understanding when it’s important to do what they’re told and as they’re told.  I also believe in a tremendous amount of mutual respect, and that’s been our experience at least with the mentors that we sought out which is that they are incredibly respectful of our kids even as they seem also very capable of.  I guess the short hand term, putting them in their place when need be, right?  So our kids are, I have noticed this over and over, really, really patient and tolerant and generous with younger children particularly.

Ben:  Yeah, I’ve found that kids who are homeschooled make great babysitters.

Mr. Hewitt:  Yeah, right?  And we’ll say that our kids haven’t expressed an interest in team sports.  We haven’t had the experience of them being part of the baseball team.  Your question is really interesting to me because, and I don’t have a great answer other than I haven’t seen it but we haven’t been in situations such as a team sport.  I think your point is really pertinent which is that a lot of what we’re trying to teach our kids is to be really resourceful and to be really critical thinkers.  And I talk about this actually in the book.

I remember my wife and I having this conversation years ago and just being like why the heck are they always questioning us?  She goes well, listen.  Why should we think, we are constantly, sort of teaching them to think critically and not to just accept the status quo?  Why should we believe that they are going to not turn that critical thinking on us?  And it’s totally true.  In some ways, this is one of the more challenging aspects I think of raising kids who are really critical thinkers is acknowledging and realizing that they are at times going to turn that critical thinking on you.  And so I do wonder if they were placed in a situation where there were these sort of hierarchical rules handed down from above that might seem pretty arbitrary to them if they would be a little bit like you’re talking about.  I don’t know.  It’s a fascinating question.

Ben:  There’s almost a hybrid model out there popularized, I believe, initially by Seth Godin, who I think he did a TED talk or he had some kind of an interview or somewhere he expressed the fact that he was not a huge fan of modern public schooling or a college education.  And then he kind of said that or he almost retracted that statement, and I may not be getting the story 100% correct, but regardless, this is kind of the model.  Retracted that statement expressing that perhaps it is good in some situations for our children to be in environments during the day, surrounded by peers in what some might call a factory worker setting.

If you were to look at it in that light, some people might look at it more in the light of learning how to cooperate well with others who are in your peer group setting, but ultimately to have a model in which they spend some of their day in that setting surrounded by peers, learning how to cooperate with peers, and learning in an environment that might be very much like the environment they’d be in, were they to work for whatever, Google or Apple or any other organization which they’re surrounded by their peers working.  And then as another part of the day to put them into this environment where they are being unschooled, where they are being homeschooled, where once they’re home from school, your job as a parent is to be ready to drop everything for the next three or four or five hours, and get them out into the world, onto the farm, out into the street, out exploring and satisfying your own creative yearnings, etcetera, and to kind of do the best of both worlds, so to speak.  When you hear about a model like that, what are your thoughts?

Mr. Hewitt:  Well, my thoughts are that perhaps it has some merits, but also that the way our educational system is structured right now, it would be incredibly difficult to accomplish.  And not just our educational system but our entire economic cultural system because to do so would require again a level of engagement and facilitation by the parent that is really, really, really difficult to accomplish though the contemporary model in which in so many cases, both parents work full time jobs just to make ends meet or are otherwise distracted by other interests.  So I don’t know, it’s an interesting thought.  Seth is definitely, I’ve read a little bit of Seth, and he actually read.  We had a little e-mail exchange ’cause he read the Outside article and was kind of intrigued by it, and he’s clearly very sympathetic to the notion of what we’re doing or this style of education, and I hadn’t really heard anything about this idea of this hybrid model.

Ben:  It’s one that I think may not be scalable as you’ve eluded too, right?  So it’s not the answer for education because it does require a certain model at home to where both parents are at home.  It also requires a schooling setting, in my opinion, that still doesn’t allow foreign, and obviously there are a ton of things in your book that we haven’t really touched on much, and one is the inactivity component.  The problem with school is that you’re simply sitting there all day, and even with that model of having children in a situation where potentially they’re getting that positive peer interaction, right?  That ability to cooperate, that ability to be in a good way, a good little factory worker because in some ways, not being able to be a good little factory worker has actually come back to bite me in the butt many times in my life.

But yeah, you still have to have a schooling model in which kids are using you know, stand-up desks and getting outside all the time, and being able to fidget and being able to think outside the box, not being thrust into unnecessarily sit-down, formal educational model.  So I would agree that it’s not scalable, but the reason I asked is partially selfish because it is what I’m trying to set up for my kids.  My kids are going to school on a hundred and twenty acre campus where they have rowing and shooting and huge nature trails, where they’ll read a book but the book is actually set up on a nature trail, where they’re actually walking the trail and reading section of the book, and they’re allowing me to purchase stand-up desks for the classrooms.  It’s very kinda outside-the-box thinking, but again not scalable but it’s the model I’m trying to use.  I just wanted to hear what your reaction was to that.

Mr. Hewitt:  Well, I guess my reaction is it sounds like it could be a beautiful thing.  As many aspects of your children’s school sound like they could be beautiful too, and I think there are a whole host of potential “solutions” I guess here.  The problem is, as I see it anyway, the only thing I really hear about education coming out of Washington or from any of our so called leaders, it’s sort of leading us in the other direction.  I feel like we are obsessed with our children’s ability to compete on a global stage, and we do not take nearly enough time to stop to think about what all of this competing for resources is doing to our biosphere.  So that’s a whole another conversation that really maybe someday as worth having because that itself warms some of our backdrop and backdrop for why we’re doing what we’re doing.

We want our kids to understand and really feel their relationship to the natural world and to their community and to the greatest extent possible, not feel as if their life is all about a scramble for resources and hoarding resources.  And so when I hear talk of education in this country is the same old story of getting our kids to be able to compete on a global stage of how the US must retain its economic might in order to retain its place in the world.  It’s all about competition, it’s all about achievement, education, income and so on and so forth, and really in my opinion, it’s not really about developing children who are emotionally, spiritually and perhaps even physically vibrant and evolved.

Now there are exceptions, and this is actually what I wanted to say.  You know I spent a lot of time here inditing the school system, and I want to say that there are exceptions.  I also want to say that I think parents can immediate a lot of the issues with public schools.  I think a lot of parents don’t have the choices that we have to do what we’re doing, and so they may feel sort of stricken, and I know this to be true because I hear from these parents, and I think your point about trying to create opportunities outside of school.  And I guess what I want to say is if you’re listening to this and your kid’s in school, and now you’re thinking, oh my god, what am I going to do?  Your child is not necessarily roweled for life.  There are some amazing, great people and children, young adults that come out of the school system.  I do think it’s really important just as you were mentioning earlier, Ben, to try to create those opportunities to make room for learning to happen, to give your children some time, just time to appreciate the world and community around them, and to engage, interact with them.  I think that’s really, really important.

Ben:  What do your kids want to be when they grow up?

Mr. Hewitt:  (laughs) It’s funny.  When I did that article for Outside, they did a little Q&A with the kids, and I can’t remember the exact phrasing of the question or the phrasing of the answer even.  But basically, it was like what do you want to do for work when you grow up, and our kids were like work?  We just want to live our life.  We don’t want to be defined by our career, and well, I think two things.  One they’re ten and thirteen, so I think that anything they say about what they want to do or be when they are adults is highly subject to change, and I also think that they have seen that Penny and myself have worked really hard to forge a meaningful way of life for ourselves that doesn’t fit very neatly into any of our contemporary understandings of what it means to sort of have a career and even live the “American dream”, right?  Which is in out of itself kind of a very flawed term.  There’s plenty of room for a whole lot of different American dreams, but I guess if I asked them now, I think that they would say they want to live off the land, and they want to live in the woods somewhere, and they want to work in some capacity in the wilderness whether that means some sort of subsistence living by hunting and trapping and maybe maple sugaring or whatever.  But maybe that’s what they end up doing and if that’s what they do, I would be ecstatic.  Really I try, I talk about this in the book quite a bit.

I think as parents, it can be really damaging to become too attached to any particular outcome for our kids, and that the more specific are dreams for them become, the more likely we are to become disappointed ’cause in my experience, our children are always going to surprise us.  And so I’m open to a whole hosts of options to myself, and you didn’t ask what I wanted them to be and sort of glad, and I think in many ways it’s not my place to want them.  I hope for them to have a meaningful life whatever that looks like, and I think one of the things that we have been really fortunate to had exposure to a lot of really interesting people who are living lives way outside the mainstream American experience, and again that sounds a little cliché, so I guess I’ll unpack that a little.

One of those people for instance is that the mentor I spoke of earlier who lives most of the year in a four season climate in a wall tent, often embarking on two weeks no shoe expeditions in the middle of winter across the landscape, living only on the animals that he traps and hunts and he lives a very indigenous, Native American life, and to the extent for one can do so in the Twenty First Century and he makes birch bark canoes, he makes his own clothing, etcetera, etcetera.  And I am just so grateful that we have had that kind of exposure.  We even have an awareness to such a thing as possible, right?  And I would love my children to have as much awareness that their life is in their hands as possible, and of course that cannot ever be completely true.  We’re all connected to forces beyond our control, but I also think that there’s a lot of room and a lot of different ways to live a really, really meaningful, fulfilling life.  I think radically different than what most of us have come to understand.

Ben:  Yeah, I agree, and despite my initial dreams of my children perhaps playing doubles tennis at Stanford, and going on to become professional tennis players, and they still do quite a bit of tennis and tennis posters all over their wall, etcetera.  One wants to be what he calls, a drawer or an artist, and the other wants to be a farmer.  So it’s one of those interesting things where they’re being sculpted to a great extent by what their experience in life because we spend a lot of time here creating and now farming, and what they see is that provides a meaningful contribution to the world.

Mr. Hewitt:  Yeah, you bring up such a great point.  Perhaps I had meant to do it.  I hear all the time from people, aren’t you worried about the opportunities that they are missing out on, or aren’t they missing out on opportunities by not going to school?  The only honest answer is of course they are.  No parent anywhere can say that their child is not missing out on certain opportunities.  This world is an incredibly rich and diverse place, and you cannot expose your child to everything in the world no matter what.  So of course my child, where they are and how they pass their days, of course that’s going to inform what they become and how they live their lives.  It would be dishonest of me even to suggest that it could be otherwise.  The same of course can be said for children who go to school.

Well okay, so yes, my kids are missing out on certain opportunities just as kids who go to school are missing out on certain opportunities.  So there’s no way to say otherwise, and I think acknowledging that and realizing that.  And I think actually the irony is in many cases the more we try to expose them to all these different opportunities, the more we overwhelm them, and their lives become so caught up in the assumed hecticness and busyness of our contemporary society that they really don’t have opportunities to just sort of drop in and immerse themselves in their environment, and in those things that really do call to them.  So I think in our attempt, our really well-meaning attempt to expose our children to as many things as possible, we risk, I think, overwhelming them.

Ben:  Yeah.  Well you know what, Ben, you and I could probably talk for a very long time.  I hadn’t realized before our call how much we kind of have in common ‘til we started talking, and it’s just fascinating, and first of all if you’re listening in, please read both of Ben’s books if you get a chance to.  They’re both fantastic.  One the “Nourishing Homestead”, and the other “Home Grown”.  The “Home Grown” book is more on schooling and the “Nourishing Homestead” is more on, well it’s entitled “One Back-to-the-Land Family’s Plan for Cultivating Soil, Skills, and Spirit”.  Ben also mentioned the book “Deschooling Society”, and I’ll link to those books and other resources we talked about over in the show notes at bengreenfieldfitness.com/unschooling. That’s bengreenfieldfitness.com/unschooling, and if you have your own thoughts, questions, comments, feedback, etcetera, just leave them there in the show notes, and I read all of those, and I’ll reply to them in due time as I go through them.

And also, Ben, you’ve been very generous with your time today, and I know you probably have a ton going on there with the homestead and your speaking, and your writing, and managing your kids, and everything else, so I’m very grateful for you coming on and sharing all this with us.

Mr. Hewitt:  Well, thanks for your interest, and it was a great conversation.  I really appreciate you asking great questions, and I really appreciate it.

Ben:  Awesome.  Alright folks, well this is Ben Greenfield and, of course, Ben Hewitt, signing out.  Again you can access the notes over at bengreenfieldfitness.com/unschooling.  Have a wonderful week.

 

 

I was homeschooled my entire life, K-12. So I was intrigued by a recent article in Outside Online that begins like this:

“In early September, in a clapboard house situated on 43 acres just outside a small town in northern Vermont, two boys awaken. They are brothers; the older is 12, the younger 9, and they rise to a day that has barely emerged from the clutches of dark. It is not yet autumn, but already the air has begun to change, the soft nights of late summer lengthening and chilling into the season to come. Outside the boys’ bedroom window, the leaves on the maples are just starting to turn.

School is back in session and has been for two weeks or more, but the boys are unhurried. They dress slowly, quietly. Faded and frayed thrift-store camo pants. Flannel shirts. Rubber barn boots. Around their waists, leather belts with knife sheaths. In each sheath, a fixed-blade knife.

By 6:30, with the first rays of sun burning through the ground-level fog, the boys are outside. At some point in the next hour, a yellow school bus will rumble past the end of the driveway that connects the farm to the town road. The bus will be full of children the boys’ age, their foreheads pressed against the glass, gazing at the unfurling landscape, the fields and hills and forests of the small working-class community they call home.

The boys will pay the bus no heed. This could be because they will be seated at the kitchen table, eating breakfast with their parents. Or it might be because they are already deep in the woods below the house, where a prolific brook trout stream sluices through a stand of balsam fir; there is an old stone bridge abutment at the stream’s edge, and the boys enjoy standing atop it, dangling fresh-dug worms into the water. Perhaps they won’t notice the bus because they are already immersed in some other project: tillering a longbow of black locust, or starting a fire over which to cook the quartet of brookies they’ve caught. They heat a flat rock at the fire’s edge, and the hot stone turns the fishes’ flesh milky white and flaky.

Or maybe the boys will pay the bus no heed because its passing is meaningless to them. Maybe they have never ridden in a school bus, and maybe this is because they’ve never been to school. Perhaps they have not passed even a single day of their short childhoods inside the four walls of a classroom, their gazes shifting between window and clock, window and clock, counting the restless hours and interminable minutes until release.

Maybe the boys are actually my sons, and maybe their names are Fin and Rye, and maybe, if my wife, Penny, and I get our way, they will never go to school.

Hey, a father can dream, can’t he?”

Today, I have that dreaming father on the podcast, and you’re going to learn everything you need to know about unschooling, alternative education models, sustainable homestead living, and much more. Even if you don’t live “in the sticks”, you’re going to pick up plenty of advice about how to raise your own children or help those around you raise their children to become independent, free-thinking resilient kids who know how to thrive in unpredictable situations.

My guest is Ben Hewitt, author of Home Grown: Adventures in Parenting Off the Beaten Path, Unschooling, and Reconnecting with the Natural World, and in this interview, you’ll discover:

-How Ben and his family live like royalty on a thrifty budget, and how you can too…

-How to find mentors and internships for your children…

-How Ben’s children learned how to read with no “formal” education…

-The difference between unschooling and homeschooling…

-How to unschool even if you don’t live on a farm or a homestead, especially if you’re in an urban environment…

-How to ensure that your children don’t become isolated loners or socially awkward…

-Potential alternatives to unschooling for people who aren’t confident doing it or don’t have the time…

-And much more!

Resources from this episode:

-Book: Home Grown: Adventures in Parenting Off the Beaten Path, Unschooling, and Reconnecting with the Natural World

-Book: The Nourishing Homestead: One Back-to-the-Land Family’s Plan for Cultivating Soil, Skills, and Spirit

-Book: Deschooling Society

 

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