Unschooling – Yay or Nay? Ben Hewitt’s book, Home Grown, Offers Insight

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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. If unschooling at all interest you, or even if it doesn’t, I highly recommend it. You won’t be disappointed.

Not Just About Homeschooling

Hewitt’s story is less of one about unschooling, but one of his 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. I just can’t help but wonder what I would have learned if I was a full-time creator of backyard projects.

The Life of and Unschooling Family

Ben’s is a story where 8-year-olds volunteer to move hay bales for their ageing neighbour on their special family day.  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 textbooks, no worksheets, no times tables. Math and reading are borne from real life scenarios, like selling their handmade goods or researching their latest outdoor projects.  They may not know long division, 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. Somehow, though, 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.

Is it Really the Unschooling?

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 through the land, the community, or what have you, kids need to feel connected. That’s one thing that got hammered into me in my education degree. It’s just easier said than done in the public system.

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. Without connection to the land, those radical unschoolers in the video need something to connect to. A school perhaps? Sports? Community work? Ok, they may be getting the later – the interviewer clearly had some bias and may have excluded that part.  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. What a disappointment that would be for him.

So Is Unschooling the Way to Go?

I don’t know, really. As a teacher, I see a lot of things that I wish could be different about the public system. Pretty much every teacher does. We certainly have it pretty good here in Canada. As a hopeful parent, I would love to for my children to learn how to provide food, make money their own projects and be quick to offer the neighbours help.

Would I be able to do it? Of that, I’m not so sure. I also want my kids to be able to work with technology, be exposed to diversity, and work with difficult people. Any children of mine will probably be headed to public school, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t be compassionate, independent, passionate creatures who wander the woods in search of ideas and adventure.

Maybe that’s what we all need, in fact. For our kids, and for us. Maybe we all need a little unschooling in our lives.

Ben Hewitt's book, Homegrown, shares his story of unschooling his children.

In Home Grown, Hewitt shares his experience of unschooling and raising happy, free, and independent children, even if they are a few grade levels behind.

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