Rye Hewitt putting his pack basket, which he wove himself, to good use. Photo: Penny Hewitt
Horribly bored, Ben Hewitt dropped out of school at 16. Later, he earned a GED and got through two semesters of college. He writes and runs a small farm in Vermont with his wife. They’re unschooling their two boys, who are 12 and 9. Or, as they prefer to call it, “self-directed, adult-facilitated life learning in the context of their own unique interests.”
. . . the moment we stopped compelling Fin to sit and draw or paint or write was the moment he began doing these things on his own. It was the moment he began carving staves of wood into beautiful bows and constructing complex toys from materials on hand: an excavator that not only rotated, but also featured an extendable boom; a popgun fashioned from copper pipe, shaved corks, and a whittled-down dowel; even a sawmill with a rotating wooden “blade.”
In other words, the moment we quit trying to teach our son anything was the moment he started really learning.
Both boys “learned to read and write with essentially zero instruction” when they were eight Hewitt writes. “They can add and subtract and multiply and divide.” He estimates Fin and Rye “spend no more than two hours per month sitting and studying the subjects, such as science and math, that are universal to mainstream education.” After farm chores and breakfast, the boys usually head for the woods.
Sometimes they grab fishing poles, uncover a few worms, and head to the stream, returning with their pockets full of fish, fiddlehead ferns, and morel mushrooms. Occasionally I join them, and these journeys are always marked by frequent stops, with one boy or the other dropping to his knees to examine some small finding, something I would have blithely, blindly stumbled over.
“Papa, look, wild onions.” And they’ll dig with their young fingers, loosing the little bulbs from the soft forest soil. Later, we’ll fry them in butter and eat them straight from the pan, still hot enough that we hold them on the tips of our tongues before swallowing.
Hewitt thinks his sons will grow up to be whatever they want to be.