The gift of children

(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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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)

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16 thoughts on “The gift of children

  1. Not long ago I engaged in an email conversation with Ben Hewitt about the art of blogging and the challenges of being BOTH a blogger and someone living “a true authentically life close to nature”

    Engaging in this dialogue with Ben changed a lot of things for me. For starters I began blogging again. I owe him much.
Which is why I DEMAND that you buy his books and/or share his blog wide and broad especially in Europe-  my sneaky plan being that if enough of you buy his books he might need to go on a book tour here and I´d like to offer him and his beautiful family a cup of coffee and some homemade cookies.


    Here’s a link to a shitty company that sells his book: http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=ben+hewitt

    – the real nice thing to do though is to support your local bookshop by ordering through them.

    Also if you are either a journalist or a book industry worker you should seriously considering presenting Bens work to a broader European audience. He is very american, very popular, very american, very popular (I’m using neurolinquistic programming on you now verypopularveryamerican moneymoneymoney). Think of John Seymors book. You want to be the next to discover potential like that, don’t you?

    As for my readers: I ask that you support Ben and his work by buying his books (if you have the money to do so) or sharing his blog: http://benhewitt.net
    or this interview.  

    Ben and his family lives a wilderness life in beautiful surroundings, homeschooling, running a small farm. These people are true pioneers and a great inspiration for me personally.
    I enjoy Ben’s writing a LOT and I think that what he and his family is doing is so admirable. Absolute forerunners. There are the people I look to for strength to carry on.

    I think what Ben says about children is absolute and most needed.
    I think this needs to be said and I’m humbled to get to share this.
    Thank you.

    Bens blog: http://benhewitt.net

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  2. 🙂 Thank you, Andrea, and thanks for your trouble to go to the post office to post this!! 🙂
    “Traps, donkey and a cabin” was one of the lines (among many!) that made me smile in Homegrown. 🙂 Would like to see what Rye says in a couple of years.

    I second buying Ben’s books. However, if you cannot buy, or even if you do buy, also REQUEST your public libraries to order his books, wherever you are, Europe, Australia, South America – distributors will send the books out to the local libraries – which will help both Ben’s sales, and spread the philosophy in your towns.

    Ben’s family follow Peter Gray’s philosophy of un-schooling/life-long-learning (different from homeschooling).
    It is a shame that homeschooling and unschooling is illegal in many countries outside USA. My sister just mentioned that children in Italy go to school 6 days a week, having only Sunday off. . 😦

    I recommend Peter Gray and his books as well for those who are interested in play-based learning and hunter-gatherer education:

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  3. I followed his interview with you, Andrea, to get here, although he has linked you before. I heard about Ben through an unschooling interview he gave with Audie Cornish on NPR (Nat’l Public Radio), and I can’t say that my world view has been the same ever since.
    My childhood was so much different from his children’s… I hated school, and I remember crying when I learned that school went ALL the way to 12th grade!! The horror. I am now a degreed Mechanical Engineer.
    Since I was a little kid, I have always wanted to “be my own boss” and start a company. At least in my head. I knew I wanted to be free to do what I wanted, but that was the only way I knew to do it. After learning of the Hewitts’ way of unschooling, and producing the vast majority of their food, I knew that’s the way that felt “right”, finally. This is where we are heading, my wife and two very young kids.
    I can’t agree more about “making room for learning to happen”, since I can point to the exact point in my life when I realized I could learn what I WANTED, rather than my homework. And, boy, did I learn! The passion for the topics I wanted to learn! I want that for my kids. I want them to be free to explore the world that intrigues them.

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  4. thanks andrea for telling it like it is. I aspire to ben hewitts families lifestyle of living on the land and being able to provide your children with usefull skills and jobs to do each day. I am a single mom with one son age nine. we have a small century old house, on a big piece of land. we take care of bees, chickens, and a big garden in the front and back of the house. since there is only me to provide for us, I have to go to work. so my son was exposed to computers at a early age and now I have to put time controls on the computer so he wont be on the computer for hours. the problem I have is how to steer him away from computers. do I have to bike him around to different classes, mentors to facilitate a different life for him, then where I am going to find time for my own handicrafts? It is a challenge to wanting to go a different way in raising my son when all he sees that he can do is the computer. sometimes I wish the computer would shut down and not work again and then my son would be forced to do something.

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  5. I second thanking you for going to town to post this! I recently heard of Ben from some article on the internet. I just now bought his book, and will check out his blog. I too am trying to unschool my children. I find it difficult and often worry they are playing minecraft too much (then I marvel at the things they build, and feel a little better). Unschooling is such an elusive process. I keep wanting someone to tell me how to do it, though I know it just doesn’t work that way. I do think, though, that it begins with cherishing your children as they are, and beholding they gifts they bring.
    Such gifts you are giving us, Andrea 🙂 I look forward to them each day!

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  6. Scott, your comment is inspiring and I wanted to share this about a simple life

    madeline, unschooling is so much harder for a single parent, but there are some creative ways, I think. . There are Sudbury schools if you can afford. . There are unschool co-ops depending on where you live. If there is not one, you can create one with some like-minded families. There may be mentors for your son who you could hire while you work.. Or create a flex schedule for yourself. I feel your dilemma though.

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    1. Yes, the video is great. It is a great find, of course because of the subject matter, but it also struck me that rarely do you find a person who walks the type of life he does, and can explain it so eloquently.

      Definitely food for thought there.

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  7. Thanks for a great and inspiring interview, for the post, and for posting it! What actually worries me the most in mainstream education is not so much the technologies as such, but more the blindness in the use; most of us – including so called ‘IT natives’ are rendered as technology illeterates. The more userfriendly a technology is, the less we know of how it works. So in order to educate our kids to become autonomous and responsible citizens, technology ought to be a topic in school from first grade, and with 3 learning objectives: 1. on how to protect your person and privacy out there in the virtual (which is actually quite real, since it has huge effects on the actual lives of the users), 2. on how technologies shape and affect our perception of reality, and 3. on programming, both technically and ‘philosphically’, so everybody simply has those skills and also learn to see through e.g. how ethics are taught the kids indirectly through the games that they play. I hope all this is not too off topic. It’s just that I don’t think we can (or shall) remove technologies from our lives, so we better learn how to take control. But it seems that in that respect the blind is leading the blind when it comes to general education. There is no doubt that basic skills are missing there. I look forward to read Ben’s book (and I know that where I come from writers are better off with their books in libraries than in private homes, but it might not be the same in the US?)

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  8. Well, if I could just get Ben to move up here to Washington, where we ourselves live in the wilderness and homeschool our kids, I think we would have it made: his boys and my boys would play for hours outdoors, fish for salmon, track bears, exploring the wild rivers, building debris huts in the magical forest, swim in the pond… We also live a very, very unusual life style, and although we are lucky to have families around us who also homeschool, a lot of them aren’t quite as down to earth as we are…. Plus, then he could bring his cow. I only have goats but always wanted a cow…

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  9. hey andrea – found you through ben hewitt – thank you for being one of the brave voices and examples on how thinking differently is not only possible but necessary. your writing is helping me feel connected to a larger movement that at times feels impossibly small. i look forward to reading more! kim

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  10. I like unschooling because you allow a human being to maintain their own freedom, which is possibly one of the best things in life. So many people live in some kind of prison or another, and they could never understand not imprisoning children as well.

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  11. Well worth the trip to town, I’d say! Having read Ben’s work for quite a while now (since his first book anyway) and yours for a few months, I find your and his work to be very complimentary in the best possible way. Though I read constantly, I do not often buy books preferring to use the library. However, I do own all of Ben’s books and have bought them as gifts. They are very timely but also timeless and I look forward to the day when my young sons can read them for themselves. I think his books (especially $aved and Homegrown) will help explain what their crazy parents were thinking when they were defending all of their weird parenting choices. As much of Ben’s work as I’ve read, there are some different thoughts expressed in this interview and I appreciate your ability to ask the great questions that bring forth the great answers. I am again struck by how there can be such a community of thought and spirit via blogs such as yours and Ben’s but many of us have little luck finding such like-minded souls in our face-to-face lives. So very grateful for the sharing of ideas in the posts and the comments from readers. Our tribe is out there….somewhere…

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