(Sorry for the delay, internet was down so I had to drive to town to post)
This is an interview with Ben Hewitt. It really needs to stand alone.
I´ll post my opinion about Ben in the comments.
1. How do you perceive the reality that faces most of todays children in our society? How does that make you feel? When you look upon the general reality of our children what do you think is lacking? What do you think is too much part of their world? What do you think about the future for our kids? (I mean GENERALLY)
Jezzum, Andrea, that’s five really big questions. Can’t we ease into this a bit?
First off I guess I’d say that I’m not sure that the reality facing most of today’s children is actually reality, though it is maybe perceived as such, and perhaps that’s close enough. Generally speaking, I think this perceived reality is organized around the ideology that children should be educated primarily to further their economic interests. So I guess the first thing that is too much part of their world is the very notion that our children’s learning and lives should be subservient to economics above all. From here, it is not difficult to see how childhood has largely become captive to sedentary, abstract learning, which of course includes almost total immersion into contemporary technologies. Here in the US, children spend an average of 44 hours per week looking at screens. That’s in addition to the 40 or so hours they spend in school. There just not much time left for them to experience or even imagine life outside the context of these institutions.
What do I think about the future for our kids? I think unless we begin to accept that our children’s reality can be very different than how we currently perceive it to be, it’s not particularly bright. On the other hand, it’s not really all that hard to shift that perception. But first we have to understand that such a thing is possible.
2. Why did you choose to live closely with your children? How do you school them? What is that like? How does it feel to spend to much time with your children? Has it changed you? Has it changed your view on childhood? What do you think ” a good childhood” is? Have you succeeded?
I choose to live closely with my children in part because I actually enjoy their company, but also in part because I believe that family is the foundation of healthy community, and from healthy community comes healthy nation/state. We don’t so much “school” our children as make room for them to learn alongside us and other members of their community. I’d say that’s the most concise way to explain our style of education, relative to a more conventional schooled experience: We try to make room for learning to happen, rather than trying to make learning happen, via a compulsory, standardized curriculum. Most of our son’s learning occurs in the context of their interests, typically via hands-on experience. My wife, Penny, and I are constantly facilitating these experiences, either directly, or via mentors or other adults in our community. Frankly, this takes an enormous amount of effort. And patience. That’s probably the things that’s most changed for me: I’ve become far, far more patient than I was prior to having children, and I suspect far more patient than I would have been if we sent them to school.
I think a “good childhood” is one in which the child feels loved, useful, and respected. I think most children feel loved – at least, I sure hope so – but I’m not convinced that most children feel useful and respected. And by “useful,” I mean tangible contributions to the well-being of their family and community. By “respected,” I mean not being compelled to spend the majority of their waking hours memorizing information that is pretty much useless outside the vacuum of school and industry.
Have we succeeded? Hell, I don’t know. I know we’re trying. I know we’re doing the best we can. I know there are days I feel almost joyously optimistic about my sons’ childhoods, and there are other days I feel certain we are failing them.
3. What has been the hardest part about choosing to rise you children differently than the majority? What has been the challenges? What has been the rewards?
A dear friend once told us something that’s stuck with me ever since: “It’s always easiest to do what everyone else is doing.” I think about this a lot when we face challenges, most of which revolve around the fact that there just aren’t many other families following a similar path. For instance, our sons spend the majority of their waking hours outdoors, and they have trouble finding friends who want to spend as much time on the land as they do. They do have friends, but they do not have many friends who truly share their passions, and I know this is something they are aware of. To circle back to what our friend told us, it would be “easier” for my boys if they were avid gamers, or drawn to team sports, or any of the other more typical pursuits of their peers. There are built-in social groups organized around these pastimes. It’s socialization by default.
Interestingly, this is relates directly to one of the rewards for Penny and myself, which is that we see how passionate our boys are about their wilderness pursuits. They don’t want to do what everyone else is doing because it does not hold meaning for them. So even though they are aware they would have expanded social opportunities if they chose different activities, they are so drawn to the wild and to the skills they are cultivating that they are willing to forgo those opportunities. I am so grateful for the strength of their passion and their ability to imagine and create lives for themselves that are different that what the majority of their peers are doing.
Not long ago, I heard Fin, our older son, asking Rye what he’d ask for if he could have three wishes. Rye thought for a few seconds and said, “traps, a donkey, and a cabin.” In one sense, this made me a little sad, because I realized that so long as my son wishes for nothing more than traps, a donkey, and a cabin, he will likely feel somewhat isolated from the majority of contemporary American society. But it also made me really happy, because it was evidence to me that he’s capable of imagining a life on his own terms. That’s a powerful thing.
4. How do you celebrate christmas? Can you describe what “christmas” is in the Hewitt household?
What kinds of gifts to do you give to your children? How does your children (and you) react to the consumerism? Are you in opposition? Do you think about them not getting as much gifts as anybody else? How does that make you feel?
We don’t celebrate Christmas. We’re not followers of Jesus, and the crass consumerism and pressure to be part of that consumerism finally broke us. We quit Christmas about 10 years ago, and focused our celebrations on the Winter Solstice, which does have meaning to us. Gifting is very minimal, and almost all handmade. For instance, this year Penny’s making the boys buckskin hats from a deer hide she tanned. I’ll probably write them poems, or maybe make a painting. I don’t know. Not much. I don’t worry a bit about them not getting as many gifts as other kids, first because they never, ever complain about the relative dearth of presents and second because I feel that by not giving them a surplus of material items, we’re actually giving them a much larger gift, which is the gift of modest expectations.
5. What do you think the gift of the child is? What can we learn from hanging out with our children?
Patience. Acceptance of mortality. That we can fashion the world as we imagine it, perhaps not entirely, but to a far greater extent than we were taught to believe. Watching my boys chart their path has given me a lot of freedom to imagine how my life can unfold in ways I never expected or even understood were possible. That’s a pretty big gift!
But ultimately, I think the gift of the child is whatever we allow it to be. We just need to learn how to recognize, accept, and accommodate their gifts”
(all pictures credit to Penny Hewitt)