Home Grown: Adventures in Parenting off the Beaten Path, Unschooling, and Reconnecting with the Natural World is a book by one of my favorite people I’ve never met. Ben Hewitt is a homesteader, a homeschooling parent and a damn good writer. Everything of his is inspiring. Here he describes the unique way he raised his kids: on a large farm, with lots of books and a little tutoring.
- I think of the way I’m so often caught off guard by some small, commonplace moment: the sight of our pet Muscovy duck, Web, waddling across the pasture; or seeing Fin and Rye moving over the land together on their way to or from the woods. From the way their heads are tipped just the slightest bit toward one another, I know they are talking. Sometimes, I cannot even identify a trigger, like when I am walking down the farm road and I am suddenly swept by a sense of knowing my place. Not just in the here and now, but in the grand, infinite scheme of things and forces far beyond my capacity to even imagine.
- What I gain from these moments—the quick bloom of warmth they bring, the quiet sense of knowing that there is nothing else I need—cannot be readily measured, and because it cannot be measured, it cannot be traded. It is my own wealth. It is unique to me and therefore it is secure.
- When I explain my children’s unconventional educational path, I am often confronted with skepticism. “What if they want to be doctors?” people say. “How do they learn?” I am asked. “What if they want to go to college? Don’t you worry about socialization?” I have heard these questions so often that it is almost as if I can see the thought as it migrates from brain to tongue. I can hear the question before the question has been asked. The answers to these questions are at once simple (respectively: “If they want to be doctors, they will.” “They learn because learning cannot be helped.” “If they want to go to college, no one will be able to stop them.” And “No, we are not worried about their socialization. Don’t you worry about what schoolchildren are socialized to?”) and complex.
- Still, I can’t help but think of how my own sense of discernment over my time has shaped my life, and generally for the better. I did not like school, so I walked away from it. I did not like working for others, so I chose not to. I do not like to spend a lot of time indoors, so I don’t. The truth is, I want to live the way I want to live, conventions be damned, and I can only hope for my sons to know they can be so free.
- I have no doubt that if Fin had been sent to a public school, he would have been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and summarily prescribed behavior-modifying drugs.
- And what we observed was that the son we worried would never be able to quiet his body and mind enough to concentrate on a particular task was actually capable of tremendous focus. Liberated from paint, paper, and all assumptions about how he should learn, Fin immersed himself in projects that seemed to blossom from some primal place deep inside him. At first, these projects had no discernible end: He spent hours hammering nails into a single piece of wood, or whittling a stick until it was so thin it splintered in his hand. But gradually, his pursuits became tangible. He built bows, spending hours carving and sanding. He became an expert at making cordage from gossamer threads of cedar bark.
- Sometimes the greatest blessings come disguised as inconveniences.
- There’s another part to it, and I think it’s that chores are an assumption of responsibility in a world that can sometimes feel devoid of such a thing. In a sense, chores are homage to the animals and crops under our care, the fulfillment of a silent promise not only to them but also to ourselves. It’s a promise not to take anything for granted, and that we won’t forget—for this one day, at least—that we are merely a part of something bigger than we can even imagine.
- You might ask, “What is the point of knowing these things?” To which I can only answer, “What is the point of knowing anything?” By extension, we might both ask, “What is the point of an education?” Is it to be socialized to a particular set of expectations? Is it to continue sawing at the few frayed strands still connecting us to the natural world? Is it to learn that learning happens best under the gaze of a specialist? If so, then perhaps you are correct. There is no point to my sons knowing what fox pee smells like, or which of the wild mushrooms in our forest are edible, or how to make fire from sticks. There is no point to the ease and comfort with which they move through the wilderness. There is no point to their desire to help our neighbor get his hay under cover before the rain comes. There is no point to their boundless curiosity regarding the habits of the woodland animals. There is no point to all the little shelters and tools they’ve built.