A Long One

Morning chores
Morning chores

Back in high school I spent a lot of time with my friend Jim. Jim was a few years old than me. He had an old Saab he’d bought cheap and we liked to drive around listening to music and maybe smoking a little weed. I said “maybe” and “a little,” ok?

Anyway. Back then, we mostly listened to Rush. My favorite Rush album was (and remains) 2112. I guess you’d call 2112 a “concept” album, or at least the first half of it, which consists of an uninterrupted 20-minute expanse of music that tells of a dystopian future in which a commoner stumbles upon an acoustic guitar long after such instruments have been judged frivolous and thus jettisoned somewhere between now and then.

The lyrics begin like this:

“We’ve taken care of everything/the words you read the songs you sing/the pictures that give pleasure to your eye/It’s one for all and all for one/We work together common sons/never need to wonder how or why.” 

I liked 2112 so much, I think, because it fit my worldview at the time, which was largely oriented around an acute sense of disempowerment related primarily to my schooling. (It’s probably telling that another of my favorite songs was a Bad Brains number called The Regulator, a one-minute, seven-second hardcore punk riff on, well, being regulated). This is how I described my relationship to high school in Home Grown:

Did I hate school? Well, yes, I suppose so, but only in aggregate. There were elements of it I liked very much. For instance, I liked hanging out in the parking lot with my friends. That was a lot of fun, or at least, it fit my version of fun at the time. I liked Creative Writing, one of the few classes I rarely cut. I liked my physics class, not because I liked Physics (I flunked it, along with Algebra, Calculus, History, and French) but because Tom, my teacher, was something of an oddball. He smelled horrific, wearing the accumulation of his fetid perspiration like a badge of honor. But despite the odor, and despite my flailing half attempts to succeed in his class, there were compensations, such as the time he encouraged my friend Django and me to paint an old steel barrel with the international warning symbol for nuclear waste and leave it in a conspicuous place on school grounds. In no way could I discern how this had anything to do with physics.

“Why?” we asked him.

He raised his walrus-ian eyebrows into inverted V’s. “To see what happens,” he replied.

We jettisoned the barrel in a shallow depression at the edge of one of the playing fields, after which followed a sleepless night listening to the Bad Brains and fretting over the legal ramifications of creating counterfeit toxic waste. What special sort of wrath might the law reserve for a couple of sixteen-year-olds with an old barrel, a can of spray paint, and an ingrained sense of mischief? At two thirty a.m., in the lonely darkness of my childhood bedroom, my imagination ran toward long years of solitary confinement in the sort of juvenile facilities that are, at some point in the distant future, revealed to have been riddled with abuse.

The following morning, the barrel was gone. Django and I waited anxiously for news of its discovery, but none came, and for reasons I still do not understand, this delighted Tom.

Despite these shenanigans and despite the pleasure I derived from my creative writing class, the prevailing theme of my truncated high school career was one of simple boredom. And with it, a sense of my time being wasted, of my life slipping through my young fingers. In class after class, I slumped in my chair, quietly seething at my captors and, more broadly, at the unquestioned assumption that I should be held captive in the first place. Where was the relevance in what I was learning? In what ways might it inform and improve my life outside the context of school? It felt to me as if the entire experience was unfolding in a vacuum and that, once I graduated, the seal on the vacuum would burst, and I would be helplessly sucked into the real world, for which my schooling had done little to prepare me. I think this feeling frightened me, although I doubt I would have admitted so at the time.

Restlessly, I would shift my gaze from the algebraic equations scrawled across the chalkboard to the fields and forest and sky that for the majority of my waking hours remained achingly out of reach beyond the classroom’s plate glass windows which, for all their transparency, felt like nothing so much as the bars of a prison cell. What was I looking for? Nothing in particular, frankly. Nothing more than simple escape, a refuge from captivity, where the information I was being forced to memorize and recite (as if the latter were proof of having learned something) felt as if it mattered only against the backdrop of school.

Again I must return to the article I quoted from a few days back:

Education and upbringing is a hallmark example of the extent to which the system of control has saturated our lives, bodies and minds. We do not realize is how extensively our way of seeing the world and more importantly; how we see ourselves in it, is a direct result of our upbringing and education. As Ivan Illich, the author of “Deschooling Society” puts it: “School is the advertising agency which makes you believe that you need the society as it is.”

I think Illich is precisely right in the above quote: School is the advertising agency which makes us believe that we need the society as it is, and it is incredibly effective precisely because so few parents (but interestingly, maybe not so few children) recognize this. I wonder if this is ultimately why I felt so disempowered by it: It was trying to force me to accept a view of myself, the world, and the confluence of the two that did not jibe with what I felt and understood to be true. I also wonder if this is why some people are so threatened by the notion of children being reared in the absence of compulsory “learning”: It is not merely a repudiation of their views on education, it’s a repudiation of their views on life.

Or – and I’m guessing this might be closer to the truth – maybe they’re so threatened precisely because on some level, they do recognize the extent to which the system of control has saturated their lives. They recognize it, but it is simply too frightening to acknowledge. They are too immersed it in to see a way out, and therefore, they will do whatever they can to make themselves comfortable within its confines. I guess maybe we all do this to a certain extent, no?

Even among those parents who do see the messaging implicit to compulsory institutional education, fewer still have the luxury of choosing differently. Or maybe they are simply too afraid for their children’s economic futures to choose differently – I’ve heard some variation of this theme from numerous parents. I know it’s not great, but how else will he get into college? Who will hire her? Etc, etc. Pragmatism over passion, though I suppose the two needn’t always be mutually exclusive.

For those of us who have chosen a different path, the challenge is that we forever exist on the fringes. For most families, school creates a default community. It offers a way to pass the days, a place for children to go while parents are working or otherwise engaged. This I hear a lot, too: I’d love to homeschool my children, but I could never spend that much time with them. That’s what I was thinking of yesterday when I wrote about working alongside, talking to, and learning from our children. That’s not something many parents know how to do these days. I know I’m still figuring it out. But my point, really, is that by opting out of school, you’re not merely opting out of school, and whether you believe that is for the better or the worse, it is no small thing.

I am meandering, now, losing sight of my message, so I guess I’ll pull the old writer’s trick of circling around to the beginning, running in that old Saab with Jim. As you know, I dropped out of school, while Jim went on to a technical college, before ultimately founding a solar installation business. He was smart enough to see what school could offer him, the stuff he needed to know to do the stuff he wanted to do. I don’t think he felt as trapped or disempowered as I did. It’d be interesting to ask him about it now, but I can’t, because he died a few years ago. His heart just up and quit while he was sleeping.

A few months before he died, Jim invited me to a Rush concert in Saratoga Springs. I demurred, so his wife went with him instead. They had a great time, and though there’s part of me that wishes I could claim the memory of my friend and me at the concert, pumping our fists and singing along to 2112, there’s another part of me that figures his wife deserves to remember that at least as much as I do.



100 thoughts on “A Long One”

  1. Foreign language education should begin very early. It does take a number of years of exposure to acquire proficiency. But once you acquire the knowledge, the skill, the art of the language, then you forever possess the key to unlock a previously impenetrable world that can’t fail to broaden your horizons. Too bad most kids are lucky to get two years in high school and feel frustrated that they haven’t mastered the language and promptly forget what little they did learn.

    1. Agreed.

      American kids better become proficient in Spanish, ’cause within a few generations America will be a bilingual country like Canada.

    2. In some districts in New Jersey language classes start in grammar school, finally!! In one of the local tony private schools kids can begin instruction in either Spanish or French at age 3. Works for me. Wish I was able to speak something other than American English 🙂

  2. See? This is one reason why I read your blog – the homeschooling stuff. You make it sound so sane. We homeschool our three kids – not because of religious reasons but because of all the reasons you write about so eloquently. Currently, we are at the tail end of a five-week road trip in our little beat up RV. We wanted to escape the relentless rain on our Pacific Northwest Homestead, so we went in search for sun and adventure in Arizona and Utah. And we found them!!! Lots of learning went on… informally, not with a curriculum.
    It’s strange… I am German and had one of the best educations you could ask for. I went to the highest level you could reach at my age. I know what a “good” education is. But you know what? Although I crammed for tests and got A’s in almost every subject, I forgot what I had learned as soon as the test was over. I didn’t learn any hands-on practical skills, although I could translate ancient Latin texts. So what?
    I think one of the reasons I so confidently (most of the time) love homeschooling is that I know the other side (the “good” education), and the other side is worth shit in my opinion. If my kids want to become doctors or lawyers, let them. They will learn if they are interested. But for now, I prefer that they know how to build things with their hands, how to hunt their own game, how to slaughter chickens, how to grow kick ass tomatoes in our garden. I love that they want to read several books a week because they like to read, not because I demand they do. I love that they spend hours rocking out on keyboard, drums and electric guitar. I love that they play with their little sister during the day, when we are all home together.
    So I’m ranting. Sorry. We just got out of Bryce Canyon, after hiking our butts off and not showering for several days, and wifi is exciting to me. So there you go. Thank you for validating and inspiring me so much!!!

  3. Ben, again with this anarchy stuff? 🙂 Yes. . agree with everyone above.
    Corina, I am so with you. .
    Andrea, had not seen this article, thanks!, but there were others on Waldorf education – Silicon Valley people opting out of technology for their kids . Nice to see this little bit going out into the mainstream.

  4. This really hit home. I remember sitting through Algebra and Geometry classes, both of which took me two tries to conquer, wishing I could run out the door into the woods. I wanted to take the Agriculture track but was forced into college entrance. 50 years later, I have a farmette and produce all my own poultry, eggs, rabbit and veggies. I often wonder “what if”. You rose above the conventional wisdom and look who you are and what you’ve got.

  5. Let’s open up minds one at a time, starting with our own families – to risk, to love, to question, to give and to work and to play. There are many different ways to accomplish this – it doesn’t have to look exactly like your wonderful example, but it does have to be intentional with the goal of blessing others by making decisions that will have positive ripples (like you wrote in your new book). Thanks for pushing my mind open just a little more.

  6. I ran into an acquaintance the other day who was noticeably pregnant. I asked her if she intended to keep working and she said yes, just part time probably. She said that she couldn’t imagine staying home all the time with her baby and said that she would work just to cover the cost of daycare. She gave me credit for being a stay-at-home Mom.
    I just don’t get it. She did not say that she wanted to work because she is so passionate about her career or even that she has to work to provide food for her family. No, she would work so that she could have someone else spend time with her child and then they’ll get shipped off to school all day once they turn 5. I guess some people just don’t want the responsibility, which is pretty darn sad.

    1. I agree. If you adore what you do and want to keep doing it, by all means, use the daycare because that passion for work can translate well at home.
      I don’t understand someone who would WANT to work to just cover daycare because they can’t imagine being home all day with their own baby. You are responsible in raising them, they are little people. If you don’t want to, then why in God’s name are you having a freakin’ kid??????

      1. Amen MissFifi! “If you don’t want to spend all day with your baby, then why in God’s name are you having a freakin’ kid??????”

      2. I think some people have children just because “that’s what people do.” Another sign of people living unconciously.

  7. I’m part way through “Home Grown”having just read the bit quoted here. I find it so interesting, that although I approached school in a very different way, the feeling of captivity and boredom and need to escape was the same. I was an excellent student. Not popular or unpopular, but always a little out of place. It took me until about 11 or 12 to realize that my uniform of leggings, hiking boots and tie-died shirts was not the norm. I never did my best, but I did enough to get those straight A’s. Doing well in school came pretty easily and rather than trying to maintain good grades for adult respect or self satisfaction it had more with the fact that I saw it as my way out. College was surely the only way to pursue all of my dreams and fantasies? My parents were wonderfully supportive and encouraged me to do what I wanted and follow my dreams, but they also didn’t offer and alternatives to my very expensive fantasies.

    I tried not to prolong my high school years too much. I left for a year abroad in Hungary on my sixteenth birthday which, although a mixed bag of experiences, profoundly shaped my life. I returned home, graduated half a year early and then travel became my escape. But nothing had quite clicked yet and school recaptured me. I didn’t escape the grasp of school until after I completed my master’s degree in archaeology (again abroad, but this time in England). The funny thing is that all of my chosen post-high school schooling revolved around career fantasies based in childhood reading. I was more or less unschooled until the age of 7 and luckily this was enough time for me to develop a deep love of reading, languages nature and history. I spent all of the following years pursuing Tolkien-ite fantasies of history and language and medieval archaeology. But as I came to realize a little too late that academia is not for me and neither is the world of private contract work I have found myself under the great burden of student loan debt. And now all I want to do is farm and be with the land, people and animals I love.

    As I continue to work at a job that while not terrible is not something I love and requires me to travel away from my commitments at home I struggle to find a solution in which I can pursue my homestead/farming dreams and still make student loan payments. Because it’s the dream of having my own land, family, home, and farm that finally feels right.

      1. In America, you can’t even bankruptcy your way out of student loans. They don’t go away. And plus, that would be called stealing.

        There is a “real debt help” fella on the radio. Highly recommended.

        Stepping off the soapbox, not to say one more word about it. This isn’t the forum for it. My apologies, Ben.

  8. Last night, my wife and I exchanged anniversary presents half a week late. I bought her a copy of The Nourishing Homestead–she laughed when she opened it. I didn’t get the joke till I opened my copy of Homegrown. Then we sat down to read: I with Homestead, and she with Homegrown. Then she laughed again and read me the same passage you have quoted here.

    Fine words, Ben. May your kimchi and your woodpile always be well seasoned, and may the burn last well until morning.

  9. I support unschooling but I choose to send my children to school. I certainly don’t see unschooling or going to school as being black or white options, neither is perfect, both involve compromises. For my children and my family, going to school is the better option for us at this time. The reality is that at age 8 and 6 my children love school. I know that may change. I do have to disagree that by sending you children to school you are automatically indoctrinating them into consumer society and being swallowed up by the man. There are many ways to fight the system. Some of us choose to exit it completely, and some hope to make change within. I don’t assume to know if one is right or wrong but I do believe it is possible to raise thoughtful children who go to school. I remember when I was my oldest was about to start school and I was speaking to a teacher. She told me not to worry too much about school as the parent’s influence is almost 95%, the school’s influence is so little. That has always stuck with me and I believe her. As an adult, when I look at how my friends lives have evolved, their families have shaped who they are way more than school. I also recognize that school is a big deal as we all have those school memories that you describe. Yet I wonder if we still put too much emphasis on those memories. Those teachers and school shaped us but how much. Now I am rambling. I do believe that public school could be so much better than it is and I have trouble giving up on it. What about the children who can’t be unschooled? I want to keep fighting to make it better. Your children sound amazing Ben and I do wish mine adored being outdoors as much as yours. However, they are also creative thinkers. Their teachers are incredible thoughtful and they do not want to just stuff their students with information. They want to help them become caring adults. I do make sure my children know they do not have to go to school; that school is not the only way to learn. College is not the ultimate or assumed goal, however lifelong learning is.

    1. Great post. I agree with and relate to most of what you said. I might clarify my version of one point that you made, though. Close, highly involved families that spend lots of time together and truly enjoy each other have a greater impact on their children than school, but I do not believe that all families do…in ways that may be deemed positive and/or negative. My wife and I are both educators and, despite running ragged with sports and other “worthwhile activities”, we see many families truly spending very little quality time together. In those cases we do see kids who simply learn to play roles and prepare for (mundane) places in society.

      For what it’s worth, I adjusted my career to be home with our twin boys from the time they were born and as they entered preschool age did a bit of my own version of homeschooling/unschooling. I considered that arrangement and would have greatly enjoyed it but my wife and I both enjoyed school (generally speaking, and not at every level) so we wanted them to have a shot at it. What do you know?!? The boys love it.

      Within the next year or two I plan to make a change…not “retired”, but not full-time, either…I have WAY too many interests and need more time outside. When I do, I hope to work out an arrangement with the school district in which the boys are home with me one or two (of the 5) days each week but in school the remainder. As a family (7 year-olds included) we are very project based. I would really like more than just after school and on weekends to continue to teach (and facilitate learning) more that school could.

      Oh- and another Rush fan here.

  10. this, and 2112 nostalgia. something to invite my boys to read (your writing) and listen to (their writing) as another unschooling day unfurls moment by delicious moment …. ❤

  11. Maybe I misread or misinterpreted what you wrote, but when I read Home Grown, I got the impression that you were a gawky, over-weight, kid who was socially excluded (marginalized?) by his peers, always the last kid picked when kids got to pick. Since you were raised in Vermont, I assume that your public educational options were limited to the school district you lived in, so your parents couldn’t easily transfer you to an alternate school that might have had the resources/programs to better meet your needs. Your negative experiences with the education system made you who you are today and since your opinions on the subject are (somewhat?) out of the mainstream, you attract a like-minded following.

    Based solely on what you wrote in HG, I think that you parents did you a huge disservice by not recognizing your academic struggles earlier and by failing to work with your public educators to find a curriculum that would keep you in school through graduation. Since resources are always limited, the kids who are at the greatest risk and the kids whose parents are the most involved get the extra attention that might mean the difference between success and failure.

    It strikes me that your success story is at odds with the norm for high school drop-outs, but I am not an expert on such matters.

      1. I don’t read an attack by Jeff at all. Just an interpretation of Ben’s educational and career path. Jeff did refer to Ben’s success story after all. But I do hate ad hominem attacks when I see them, very illogical and unclassy.

      2. Sandra, ok, maybe you are right, not attack on the character, just the tone and “gawky over-weight” maybe unnecessary? I understand Jeff’s point and his frustration that he is a minority among Ben Hewitt readers.

        Anyway, there/ were are tons of very successful school drop outs. Edison, Ben Franklin, Bill Gates, Walt Disney, Rockefeller, Richard Branson, George Foreman, Vidal Sasoon, and tons and tons who are multimillionaire young people these days, or many more who are just doing well or best of all, doing what they want, like Ben. What kind of measurement is that anyway, the years of sitting at the desk, as if that determines anything. . – this is not to you Sandra, just babbling out loud.

      3. I’m not attacking Ben!

        In fact, I rather like and respect Ben, Penny, Fin, and Rye, or as much as another can “like” a virtual “friend”. I would also respectfully direct your attention to page 53, paragraph 3, of HG as the basis of my comment. Ben’s word, not something mean-spirited or hurtful ginned up as a means by which to pursue some personal agenda.

        There are always exceptions to the rule and I would say that Ben’s success is the exception for high school drop outs, rather than the rule. This is my story about exceptions to the rule. When both my Father and my FIL passed away, they left a lot of material things behind, with my FIL leaving an eight-figure trust that my Wife helps to administer. Neither of them were high school graduates, dropping out of school during The Great Depression in order to provide for their families. Both of them were really smart and really successful, but both wished that they had had the opportunity to earn their diplomas. My Father eventually earned his GED and a BA when he was in his mid-70s. I remember people asking him why he was going back to school at his age and his typical reply was that he finally had the time and money to do what he’d always wanted to do. Some people travel, some people golf, he went to college.

      4. Yes, sure, Jeff. Good story. My grandma who only had 4 grades of education would have gone to school also if she could have, mainly because it was something more than what she had on her farm. Both of my parents, in their 60s, are back in school now also, not for diplomas sake, but just to study. Maybe it just proves our point that you are much more ready to sit down and study something when you are 60 than when you are 6?? That is, when you are 6, you do learn, but not by sitting at the desk all day. My 6 yr old daughter does not show much interest in workbooks or repetitive activities of such type, although when she comes up with an idea for a project or a craft, she can sit there for hours doing it.
        From your post above it sounds like school is about “earning a diploma”, not about learning. if that is the case, then there are many ways to get that piece of paper.

        Anyway, I am admiring young people these days, as I see much more flexibility and more courage than you see in the generation who are 33-50 right now. . There are more options in education, more flexibility in the workplace where young people work, much more acceptance of differences, young people going back to the basics, etc. I think it is very encouraging.

      5. If anything that I’ve written offends you, well that’s your problem not mine.

        I’m a law and order conservative. The only thing liberal about me is my spend.

    1. I don’t think it is at odds at all. I know numerous high school drop outs (my husband and brother being two) and everyone I know is very happy and successful in their own way. The high school drop out stereotype is just propaganda.

      1. I would disagree that with your assertion that the high school drop out stereotype is just propaganda. Statistically speaking, high school drop outs are less successful financially than those who earn their diplomas. The only people who I care about staying in school are my kids, as the fate of other people’s children (OPCs) are of little interest to me.

      1. Good point! Those in the mainstream tend to be less committed, less vocal, than those that aren’t mainstream.

        Where I live, graduating from high school and going to college to earn a degree or degrees is pretty much the accepted norm. Anyone dropping out of high school would be the exception and our school district even has an “alternative” high school for kids who, for whatever reason, aren’t successful in any of the three mainstream high schools. Even not going on to college is the exception in our neighborhood. Of all of the kids who have graduated from high school over the past ten years, I can only think of a couple who didn’t go on to college. One who joined the USMC, one who went to community college to become a chef, and one who wanted to be a Division 1 football player and, when he failed to get the scholarship offers that he felt he had earned, became a successful car salesman.

    2. I was not speaking of financial success. I don’t think success and financial status go together. So even if drop outs make less money than those who stayed in school, that does not make them less successful.

      1. Right on, Amy.

        I appreciate Jeff’s transparency, and it makes me wonder if it was his intent to so boldly put out there that he equates life success with financial success, and meant to so proudly exhort not caring about “other people’s kids “(i.e., society, community, the world we all live in which is populated by other people’s kids). Very curious a viewpoint.

      2. Also when I was speaking of propaganda, I wasn’t talking of income statistics. I’m talking about the message that if you drop out you’re destined to be a loser, drug addict, never get a job, etc. That is the stay in school message that I have always heard and it’s ludicrous, deceitful propaganda.

      3. Success is defined simply as achieving your purpose or goal. If one’s goal/purpose is to have close and loving relationship with your family and children, then money makes no difference. . more often means worse relationships. If your goal is to have time for yourself or your creative expression, then working 24/7 in a salaried position will definitely not make you “successful”
        Once the basic standard of living is met, people do not tend to get “more happy” by getting more money. the happiness benchmark http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/17/map-happiness-benchmark_n_5592194.html
        and that is for mainstream folks who want to go out to eat, and spend a lot on unnecessary stuff, and have Disney vacations. . .

      4. Success can be measured in many ways, financial success being only one of them. I know people who are successful in many venues who are more interested in their art then they are in making more $$. Some of my financially focused friends equate material wealth to a person’s value, they value big houses, new cars, resort vacations, chic clothing, etc. I try to value people for who they are, not what they have or where they came from, but being human, I am not always successful in my efforts not to be judgmental.

      5. I think, Jeff, in response to your comment about not caring about other people’s kids, you might want to read up on John Donne…no man is an island. The Bible says something to that effect too, whatever you do unto the least of my brethren you do unto me is a paraphrase. But shame on me, I’m now one of those people who shamelessly quotes the Bible only when it’s supporting my point of view.

      6. Other peoples’ children (OPCs) are not my responsibility!!!!!!!

        Every child is the result of contact between a male and a female, and therefore has a mother and a father, even though some of them may not care about anything beyond the pleasure from the act and may have no interest in their offspring.

        I see this as a root problem for the African-American community, where feral sex, single-parent births, and absent fathers are the accepted norm. How often do you read about a murdered gang member who is in it early twenties and has fathered several children by multiple partners? If it wasn’t so sad, I’d laugh every time that I hear the mother of a dead gangster say that he was a good boy, although he is likely to have a long “rape sheet”, and that he only dealt drugs as a means by which to provide for his family, usually a family that is on welfare and living in public housing paid for by hard working law abiding citizens like you and me.

        Of course, I could be 100% wrong.

      7. Heh heh, mr.bird, methinks youre taking a piss, as the english say, on all us peace and love liberal organic nature loving egalitatian liberal npr listening ben hewitt following hippies.

      8. I wish we had an off line comment/discussion section.

        I think a lot of this discussion is fascinating but mostly off-topic. That is to say, it’s quite a few branches away from the main trunk of the original blog post topic. But not completely unrelated. Just way far away from the main trunk.

        I think it would be nice to have a off line discussion board. Ben’s posts elicit such thought, emotion. It’s good that people can openly discuss how they feel or what they think about things.

  12. What a great story. you shared about your physics teacher!
    I saw Rush a few times and they were amazing. Way ahead of their times, especially lyric wise. Also saw Neil Peart’s drum set at Rock N Roll Hall of Fame. Yes, we bowed down. LOL
    I just had a conversation with my husband about how frustrated I am about parts of my high school education! I had a history teacher read verbatim from the book about the civil war and whatnot. I retained nothing because I was so damn bored. Now I know more about that time period, but I have never been a fan of American History exceot for WW1 and 2 and that is pretty sad in some ways.
    My college prep math teacher used to paint her nails in class on days she did not feel like teaching and gave us an “off” day. Sad to say, geometry and I never got along because of that half assed fuckery. Only my junior year English teacher was fabulous. He had us read “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and watch the film. Same for “To Kill A Mockingbird”. It was all about the interpretations of each and how art can be so powerful. He also had us watch “Cool Hand Luke” for its symbolism and story. My God, if all my teachers had an ounce of his passion, I might have done much better in college, but alas I did not. Though my sophomore English teacher was just as awesome and I am grateful for that. I believe I was one of those who should have worked a few years and then went to school, but in 1987 (I am old baby!) that was frowned upon unless you did shop classes or the work study program.
    I get nervous these days with all the STEM worship. Yes it is great if we get kids turned on to all that Silicon Valley offers, but it seems more about money than courting ideas and genius though they shop it as such. Also, who the hell is going to repair your leaky pipe or a car? An app? Don’t think so. The lack of wanting to nurture the arts or trades in kids these days reminds me of being in high school and how business majors were oh so awesome because hey, it was the 80’s and Wall Street ruled.
    Man, I needed to get that out. LOL Thanks Ben!

    1. Thanks miss fifi for your stories, very much enjoyed reading. Many of us probably have a couple truly passionate teachers or other life mentors, that we were influenced by, small percentage of truly passionate people. You can expose your kids to those teachers via school or outside of school setting, in a more natural environment.
      As far as high school drop outs I don’t know there had been some very successful ones and there are many who drop out yet get college education later.
      I am all for freedom to chose school or not school.

  13. Thanks Ben. I’m homeschooling 2 of my kids and one’s at school (because he doesn’t want to be a “wierdo” anymore ).We’re in New Zealand and summer is just so great! I love your blog and your books. Makes me feel like maybe we’re not wierdos afterall. The emperor really does have no clothes on.

  14. I spent the summer before my last year in college in Virgina Beach. Waiting tables. About three weeks before the the season ended, I woke one morning with complete loathing for Virginia Beach and its everything, and so, having convinced my roommate to join me, we bought tickets to LAX, and left the same day. We hitchhiked the length of CA, mountains, coast, beaches. Smoked a few. And then we returned, and this is my point here: Our returned flight was delayed, and we were in an airport restaurant. There were business men, tall men with shiny shoes huddled together, coats and ties, briefcases, conspiring. I had just come from Yosemite, Long Beach, surfers and dead heads, climbers.That hour in the restaurant with those “American successes” juxtaposed with the freedom of hitchhiking Big Sur drilled me a new soul. A free-form one. I’ve still got it. A free-form soul that will live as it must. Your story reminded me of that day in that godawful restaurant. The bad smell of those suits. The blandness, the suffocation. The nowhere success.

    A door closed, a door opened

    “Live in the sunshine, swim in the seas, drink the wild air”

    1. will, my comment is not to be taken personally. But just in general it’s very tiresome when people feel compelled to put down someone else just because that someone else chooses to take a path different from the one you choose. Can’t a person be happy with their choices without finding fault with someone else’s suit for pity’s sake? You have no idea of the level of freedom and happiness and achievement and creativity a person feels regardless of the threads they’re wearing. Tiresome!

      1. BTW, the above is not an ad hominem attack, just an attack on a behavior. Thanks for putting up with me, will. You’re a swell person!

    2. 🙂 too funny. Love the story. See too much of it. One person with a suit said one day here how he wants to just walk on a beach.. His colleagues joked back that maybe if he sells for the company, he can walk on a beach with a margarita, otherwise he would walk like a beach bum.. this stayed with me as I was thinking, he never really walks the beach if he is chasing the next sale in his head and checking his email every 3 minutes. Never. And margarita won’t help. Once you are enslaved no perk will make you free.

      I am braking my 2 comments per post rule, Ben will kill me…

  15. Ben, you have to watch the Bad Brains CBGB concert on YouTube. This one view is worth the invention of the Internet. And if anyone else wants to feel what real punk rock is, go watch….

  16. I love homeschooling. I love, love, love being with my kids all day long. Well… sometimes. 🙂 The thought of sending them to a government run babysitting service (aka public school) really makes me CRAZY. I do wish that all of the kids that are trapped in government school could learn in a different way – one that speaks to them, one that sparks their creativity, energy, imagination. I also see every dollar – federal, state, local – that is poured into the public school education system as a massive waste of money. It breaks my heart when I see a high school graduate that cannot read a basic Biscuit book… because you KNOW that he spent countless hours, trapped in a school, brain cell after brain cell being numbed to death.

    I love your blog. I do not unschool – but I think it is just fine to do so. I love the freedom that homeschoolers treasure. I think you are a great steward of your freedoms. I love the writing. I love the photos. I love the thought provoking tweaks. I also love the comments. Keep on keeping on!

  17. “For those of us who have chosen a different path, the challenge is that we forever exist on the fringes.”

    This is big right here…

    While we too are seeking many alternate paths that we feel deeply are right for our family…not what society wants us to believe is right…it often butts heads with some very important words like ‘community’ and ‘connection’. I often find myself wondering if the kids will get the opportunity to find those connections and community that often comes from being more in the social norm. To exist on the fringes can be terrifying at times when you think about finding those connections and community without having to drive a zillion miles to the few other families with similar feelings.

    Big thoughts…

    1. Thanks so much for this comment, Val. My desire to find some tribe members outside my own family unit regularly butts up against our somewhat hermit-like existence which is so easy to fall into living on a farm or homestead. Our nearest neighbors, while lovely people, just are not on the same wavelength as us. So recently, I took the bull by the horns and posted on a local natural parenting/attachment parenting FB group. Essentially said something like “If unschooling, immersion learning, wilderness skills, naturkinder, any aspects of Waldorf education are of any interest, I would love to hear from you.” I had 4 or 5 mamas respond positively and started up a conversation with one of them.Turns out we have some pretty unusual commonalities and we (and our children) are meeting in person on Friday at the library. My somewhat Luddite self is incredulous that I would ever strike up a possible friendship from a online source but, hey, its a tool and I’m going to try to use it for good. Just thought I’d mention it as it seems we have had some similar concerns. Best of luck!

  18. As an ex-physicist, your story of your physics teacher makes perfect sense ;).
    I get the feeling that another reason people are afraid of homeschooling is that you know that any problem your kids have is going to get blamed on you and homeschooling. The fact that almost everyone goes to school and they still have problems seems irrelevant.
    Thanks for the winter pep talk.

  19. Rush…Bad Brains..you and my husband would have been best friends. He introduced me to that incredible music, pulling me a little bit out of my folk/Euro Pop/New Wave ways. When he took me to my first Metallica concert, a group of head-bangers we passed made a comment to the effect that “You’re in the wrong place. Depeche Mode ain’t playin’ here tonight.” I guess black trench coats and combat boots didn’t quite fit there! Cliques were so strongly defined by music at that age though I’m not sure if that’s true anymore.
    Another post in which I find myself nodding my head and saying, “Yes!” after each sentence. The kind one would do well to save and forward to any nay-sayers one cares about trying to help see otherwise. I’ll also save it (along with all your books) for my boys so, when they are older, they will understand where their “weirdo” parents were coming from. Thanks so much!

  20. A Rush fan! Well that explains it…. After reading this awesome blog post all I could think was, “Shut them all down!”. Yeah, that’s right. Screw it…give these kids back their freedom. What a gift that would be, although it should be more of a RIGHT. Ugh.

  21. Education and upbringing are, IMO, separate experiences and should not be linked together. I see upbringing as how we are raised and influenced by those who cared for us. It’s what my parents taught and role modeled that has stayed with me. Formal education is just that, formal education. Parents who chose this option do not deserve to be negatively pigeonholed and stereotyped.

    1. Hmmm. I didn’t read Ben’s post as condemning. It is endelessly interesting to me how the filter through which we view life influences our vision of the world- that’s what I got from this. Many aren’t aware of their own filters, and would vehemently argue that they don’t exist. That’s enculturation. It’s in the awareness and honesty, and searching- that I find companionship with others, whether or not my filter is the same.

      The feeling that rushed over me when reading this, as it so often does with Ben’s sharing, was, “Me, too! Me, too!”

      Oh, so many wasted years… blessed I was able to give my daughter freedom in her youth. Thank you, Ben.

      1. “…some people are so threatened by the notion of children being reared in the absence of compulsory “learning”: It is not merely a repudiation of their views on education, it’s a repudiation of their views on life.”

        “They are too immersed it in to see a way out, and therefore, they will do whatever they can to make themselves comfortable within its confines
        …maybe they are simply too afraid for their children’s economic futures to choose differently…”

        “For most families, school creates a default community….”


        Maybe you should go back for a second look at the post as well as the comments. Don’t talk to me about being closed minded.

      2. I thought it repetitious and unnecessary to recopy entire sections.

        There is genuine truth in what is being said concerning homeschooling. So much so, that it doesn’t necessitate going after the character of those who are of a different ideology to prove it’s worth. It can stand firmly on it’s own. I very much appreciated what Sandra said… “it’s very tiresome when people feel compelled to put down someone else just because that someone else chooses to take a path different from the one you choose. Can’t a person be happy with their choices without finding fault… “

  22. Again, an awesome post and the comments are pretty fascinating, too. I was also a bored public school kid who sat by the window and looked longingly out–for years and years–who always had a thick paperback hidden in her desk to fall back on in my boredom should the teacher turn her back long enough. It makes me sad now, thinking of all those years wasted. Yes, there were positive things–yes, I had relationships with some pretty terrific teachers, but I think my time could have been spent better, overall.

    Ben, it’s pretty interesting when your homeschooled kids get old enough to begin to chart their courses in life: you’ll recognize distinct differences in their way of thinking, compared to yours. As four of ours have left home and done their own thing, often we’ve gulped and realized that they were raised differently than we were. We’ve had to let go our own public-schooled way of thinking, in deferring to theirs.

    They are much freer in their thinking and their planning their lives than we were. I actually envy them. My 16yo daughter, for example, just published her first ebook, is writing a blog, started a cleaning business and plans to save up enough cash to buy a little fixer-upper house when she is graduated from our home school–in two years. Then she plans to write books and blog about her adventures revamping the house. She is super excited about all this, and I do think she’ll go out and do whatever she wants to do, and be successful. I never would have dreamed such dreams at her age, being immersed in public school concerns: pep club, the school newspaper, learning how to march in the high school band, and trying to fake my way through Algebra II class: none of these skills or abilities (that I spent my precious years of childhood on) had any long-term returns, in my opinion (except: learn that you’re not so hot as a pep club president, and that fat paperback books are your best friends). My daughter thinks differently because she was raised (and schooled) so differently from me. It’s awesome, I think.

      1. Yes, Amy, yes! I was blessed that my daughter was able to attend a self-directed democratic sudbury-like school for 10 years…kind of like home schooling away from home- no age segregation, no mandatory classes, no tests, but lots of self-responsibility… and her thinking is so wide open.

        She chose to go to public high school when she was 15, and though she had never taken a test in her life, she did fine- but she was shocked by the arbitrary disrespectful-of -her-personhood rules, the crazy time schedule, and most of all, by her fellow students who “didn’t even know they were in prison.” That is what shocked her the most- that the overwhelming majority just accepted it all.

        She stuck it out for a little more than a year (stubborn, she is). Now she’s 17, working 3 jobs, about to become a service-dog raiser and trainer, and saving money to volunteer at an elephant refuge in Thailand.

        While most of her peers are bored to death, locked in (literally) with 1000 others all day in 11th grade.

        She is years ahead of where I was at her age in her thinking, processing, awareness, boldness, creativity… and I was an A student who never even got detention! She is an inspiration.

    1. Amy and Stef – Thanks for sharing your children’s stories. Helpful for those of us whose littles are still little. Peace!

      1. Please find John Holt if you haven’t yet…reading his books saved me from many a panic, especially concerning my daughter’s reading… she really didn’t read well until she was…13. Yup. By age 16 she was on an 11th grade reading level, according to whatever tests they gave her in her short time in high school. How? She decided that she had to read to survive in the world, so she practiced.

      2. Thank you, Stef. Have read quite a bit of Holt’s work and find it very enlightening and inspiring.

  23. Stef and Amy, your stories about your children are wonderful! Lucky kids to have those choices and know they can do it.

    Sandra, on your above comment about suits… well home schoolers are probably even more stereotyped than business people. But of course it does not matter what threads you wear, I found wool wearing waldorfians more unfair and regulating than tie wearing lawyers… whatever you wear, as long as you are truthful to yourself and fair to others… as long as you are not a wolf in sheep’s clothing or a sheep in wolf’s clothing… after working in corporate environments for 18 years, I can say very few people are happy with what they are doing. Most are talking about winning lottery one day and doing what they want… many are very insecure and try to over compensate their insecurities with power positions, fancy suits and fancy dinners, powerful friends. yes most unfortunate thing and heartbreaking very very few happy with what they do or with themselves. When I hang out with home schoolers and unschoolers, I find a much greater percentage of happy people. So that is all I wanted to say with my comment. None of the choices are good or bad, it is just what motivates us chose them or to stick or not stick with them….

  24. Sure some do well in a traditional setting , while others flourish in a less regulated enviroment.

    I think what we all need to take from this is , smoking weed and listening to Rush is wicked awesome!

  25. I actually felt bad after reading the post and the majority of the comments.
    At first I was sceptical about the homeschooling-thing, but that changed.
    Now here I am, seeing my kids being subjugated to the “educational”-programme, without the power or abilities to do something about that.
    All I can do is tell them that I think it is wrong, but how would that make them feel? Undergoing this whole process, possibly wasting years of their life, whilst being told and possibly shown it is not the right thing? Would it not tear them up? How would it motivate them to “perform”, while on the other hand we tell and show them it is not necessarily right.
    Or should I look at it as if we are showing them the system is wrong from within or to at least question everything they do or are being shown?
    It is posing a major dilemma for me. It feels like me vs. “Them” with my kids caught in the middle..

    btw; on the homeschooling cq. unschooling cq. deschooling-subject; I found a blog of someone who does that from within the system.
    Here name is Anna, she is a teacher on this side of the Atlantic and I am kind of impressed by her blog:

    Hope you don’t mind, Ben!

    Ohh… is weed+Iron Maiden & Ozzy and the likes acceptable too?? 😉

    1. I love leaning into the difficulties, being nudged out of my comfort zone- especially when it’s done with the humor and grace of a poet’s son. What a community and conversation you’ve instigated, Ben. Good on you, mate! Cheers

      1. Nah…. didn’t need a post like this to achieve that. I did and am still doing a perfectly good job myself.
        Seriously though, I knew all along things were wrong, but lately this is getting clearer and clearer, not just through Ben’s posts.
        Now I am in the position that I have to tell my kids to go with the programme, even though to me it seems fundamentally wrong, accept the shit they are being fed, whilst telling and showing them often the exact opposite, hoping they will remain unspoiled and not torn between two worlds of which neither they know what is true or false, solely relying on us, their parents or them the outside world as a whole…
        Bit of a tough nut to crack for a nearly 14 year old, a 12 year old and a next to 9 year old, don’t you think?

      2. Ron, I think they are smarter than we give them credit. If you are honest and open with your kids, they will separate right from wrong. . . I grew up with soviet schools telling one thing, parents another, grandparents yet third, it is ok, there does not have to be just one single view.

  26. Hi Ben, I loved this post. My brothers and I were homeschooled and raised farming in the 80’s (if you feel fringe now, we were literal freaks at that time. My parents didn’t know a single other homeschooling family when they started). We did very little formal schooling and mostly worked and played outside. We all breezed through college (pretty bored, honestly) and masters programs. Now that I’m homeschooling my own kids I’m more thankful than ever for the “risk” my parents took (under intense criticism from nearly everyone they knew). I’m also continually perplexed as to the almost universal support of government schools even though nearly everyone agrees they are ultimately failing. I can’t comprehend the massive fiscal waste that continues to be funneled into a completely broken system.

  27. Great post, from one drop out to another. Although I much prefer Red Hot Chili Peppers to Rush. My kids spent their elementary years in school while I pulled down a six figure income. It became apparent they disliked school as much as I disliked work. My husband and I made a plan and turned our successful lifetime on it’s head, relocated his job, pulled the kids out of school, quit my job, and moved to our crappy cabin in the woods. Now trying to unteach them, worksheets do not equal learning but neither does spending an entire day researching your favorite band. It’s hard but it’s going to be ok. Thanks for helping me figure it all out.

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