Deep and Personal: Two Parents Write about Becoming Unschoolers

Ben Hewitt has a wonderful article in OUTSIDE magazine (Sept. 2014): We Don’t Need No Education. In it he openly describes how he and his wife learned to support their two young boys who have an intense passion for nature, trapping, and tracking. Hewitt discusses their concerns about whether this is good for their children, particularly in terms of future employment, and his exploration of the topic is refreshing.

Yet the physical and cognitive implications of classroom learning have played minor roles in our decision to unschool Fin and Rye. It’s not that I don’t want them to be healthy and smart. Of course I do—I’m their father. But, in truth, what I most want for my boys can’t be charted or graphed. It can’t be measured, at least not by common metrics. There is no standardized test that will tell me if it has been achieved, and there is no specific curriculum that will lead to its realization. This is what I want for my sons: freedom. Not just physical freedom, but intellectual and emotional freedom from the formulaic learning that prevails in our schools. I want for them the freedom to immerse themselves in the fields and forest that surround our home, to wander aimlessly or with purpose. I want for them the freedom to develop at whatever pace is etched into their DNA, not the pace dictated by an institution looking to meet the benchmarks that will in part determine its funding. I want them to be free to love learning for its own sake, the way that all children love learning for its own sake when it is not forced on them or attached to reward. I want them to remain free of social pressures to look, act, or think any way but that which feels most natural to them. I want for them the freedom to be children. And no one can teach them how to do that.

Ben Hewitt is also the author of the forthcoming book, Home Grown: Adventures in Parenting Off the Beaten Path, Unschooling, and Reconnecting with the Natural World, due out in September. I read an advance copy of this book and I can’t recommend it highly enough. If you enjoy Ben’s article you’re going to love his book!

I noticed when reading Hewitt’s article he mentions Kerry McDonald, an urban unschooler, to provide contrast to his rural unschooling. Hewitt writes:

“The city is our curriculum,” says McDonald. “We believe that kids learn by living in the world around them, so we immerse them in that world.” Their “classrooms”—sidewalks, museums, city parks—may appear drastically different from those of my sons. But the ethos remains the same, that a child’s learning is as natural and easy as breathing.

Interestingly, the day before I received the article from Ben I received a note from Kerry McDonald that her new blog post was up on the Alternatives to School website—How We Became Unschoolers. This is a short and sweet essay about how paying attention to her children led Kerry to become her children’s follower, not their teacher—I hope you’ll read her post to see what she means!