On Connecting, Unschooling, and the Meaning of Life


I just finished reading Ben Hewitt’s Book, Home Grown: Adventures in parenting off the beaten path, unschooling, and reconnecting with the natural world. I’ll say right off the bat that it was one of the best books I’ve read in a while. Hewitt writes with enough eloquence that I could have read it in one sitting, which is saying something given my attention span. It is also refreshingly non-pretentious and preachy, which I loathe even if I am the choir, so to speak. If unschooling at all interest you, or even if it doesn’t, I highly recommend it. You won’t be disappointed.

Hewitt’s story is less of one about unscholing, but one of he family’s deep connection to the land and how that has affected them all. It makes me feel nostalgic for the childhood I wish I had. Don’t get me wrong, I was definitely more free ranging than the average 90s kid, but can’t help but wonder what I would have learned if I was a full time creator of backyard projects.

Ben’s is a story where 8-year-olds drive tractors alone and volunteer to move hay bales for their ageing neighbour until their hands are raw with blisters.  It’s a world where a six-year old can shoot (with a bow he made himself), dress, and cook a squirrel without any help from an adult. Hewitt’s two sons work hard, be it learning in the woods, or chores around the family farm (or neighbouring) farms, all without any formal education. No text books, no worksheets, no times tables. Math and reading are borne from real life scenarios, like selling their handmade goods, or researching their outdoor projects.  They are perhaps not to the levels of public school expectations, but I sure would want those kids on my team in the zombie apocalypse.

Unschooling has long interested me. I’ve met a few unschoolers and thy seem to be responsible, capable and well adjusted. The unschooling movement has come under fire, however, and perhaps rightfully so. Families like the ones in the video below bare a sharp contrast to the world Hewitt describes. Of course, there is bias in both accounts.

Although they refer to themselves as “radical unschoolers”, their philosophy doesn’t sound much different than Hewitt’s, but somehow, I predict that his boys brush their teeth. As for chores, well that’s just part of life, and the boys genuinely want to help out, quite likely because they understand where their food comes from and they sort of want to, you know, eat. The difference, I think, lies with the connection the family has with their land. The boys feel as if they are a part of it and respond to it with respect, responsibility, wonder, and excitement.

Perhaps that’s the key to raising any kid, be they public schoolers or unschoolers or anything in between — Connection, be it though the land, the community, or what have you. Hell, maybe that’s the key to life in general.
A suburban home filled with media and donuts (purchased by parents, I assume) does not seem to me like the place to unschool a child.  I’d be curious, however, to see what would happen if one of Hewitt’s sons used money earned from selling animal fur or maple syrup to buy Call of Duty.

I love working with kids, but when it comes to having my own, I generally have a knee jerk reaction. I see how hard parents work, and admire them for that, but I can’t even commit to raising a dog, let alone a human. Hewitt makes me wonder if maybe, just maybe, just maybe, I’m wrong about that front. For now though, I will just have to settle for unschooling myself, which perhaps should be the first step for all of us.


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