If I Ran the Friggin’ School

Still curious
Still curious

Last night, I noticed a spike in my traffic. Ever curious, I traced it to a comment someone had left on Mr Money Mustache. I’d never heard of the dude, but from my cursory examination of his blog, I’d probably like him. For instance, he’s big into badassity, which seems real similar to something we’re into. Furthermore, he writes with enviable cogence and wit about money and all things associated, albeit from the perspective of radically different lifestyle choices.

Indeed, the specific piece of his that prompted the comment linking to this space was about education, called “If I ran the school, things would be different,” and it got me thinking a bit this morning about what my school would look like, were I to be so naive as to embark upon such a venture. Which I’m not, so don’t worry: The children of America are safe from my nefarious influence. Well, all but two of them, anyway.

Without further ado, inspired by MMM, my version of “If I ran the school, things would be different,” which I have taken the liberty of retitling “If I ran the friggin’ school, you can better friggin’ believe things would be real friggin’ different. Got that?”

1. If I ran the school, incoming students aged 5 and above would be issued a fixed blade belt knife, a sharpening stone, and a box of bandages (We actually gave our boys knives at age 4, but I realize that’s maybe a wee outside most parents’ comfort zone). Why a fixed blade belt knife? Well, for one, because folding pocket knives are actually far more hazardous, and for two, because proper knife handling is one of the most liberating and useful skills a child can have. Why a sharpening stone? Because dull knives are dangerous knives. Why a box of bandages? Because hell yes, they are going to cut themselves, and being taught how to doctor their own wounds is yet another incredibly useful skill that almost no children learn these days.

2. If I ran the school, every classroom would have doors and windows that opened to the outdoors, and every bit of wall space that wasn’t comprised of doors and windows would be filled with books. Thin books, fat books, comic books, classic books. Books upon books upon books upon friggin’ books.

3. If I ran the school, classes would not be age-segregated, and younger students would likely spend as much – if not more – time learning from older students as they did from “teachers.”

4. If I ran the school, children would learn how to cook before they learned calculus. Actually, they’d start learning how to cook before they learned addition and subtraction. Actually, they’d learn addition and subtraction as they learned how to cook. Actually, they’d already have learned addition and subtraction while determining how much garden space they needed to grow the ingredients they’d use to feed themselves.

5. If I ran the school, students would spend more time outdoors than in. But you knew that.

6. If I ran the school, every child would learn how to use basic hand tools. They would use these tools to build a shelter in which they would spend the night. In winter.

7. If I ran the school, there would be lots and lots of toys in every room. These toys would look suspiciously like sticks, rocks, scraps of fabric, paper, paints, and other found objects. There would be no legos. There would be nothing that lit-up and beeped, unless the children were clever enough to make something that lit up and beeped. There would be none of these ridiculously overpriced natural wooden toys that any child with half a brain, the right tools, and the weeniest bit of facilitation can damn well make for themselves.

8. If I ran the school, there would be instruments in every room. Guitars, hand drums, and pretty much everything but accordions and nose flutes (don’t ask). These instruments would be inexpensive and well-used, so that no one would be tempted to tell the students to “be careful.” No one would say “don’t play it like that.”

9. If I ran the school, the primary economics text book would be Charles Eisenstein’s Sacred EconomicsThe primary history/sociology text books would be Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael and My Ishmael . Meanwhile, the dangers of drug use, casual sex, and excessive rocking-the-fuck-out would be demonstrated via exposure to Motorhead and repeated viewings of the movie Lemmy.

10. If I ran the school, there would be a bicycle for every child. If the school I ran were in a four-season climate (and it would be, because I’m not moving out of a four-season climate just to run a school), there would be cross-country skis for every child.

11. If I ran the school, I would not talk about how my students are more likely to gain admittance to the college or university of their choosing than conventionally-schooled children, or about how the skills, curiosity, and resourcefulness my school engenders will make them more suited to the contemporary job market. Because while these things might well be true, they are not the point! 

Which is probably why my school would not be very large.






83 thoughts on “If I Ran the Friggin’ School”

  1. Hell yes, your school would be large! If only to accommodate the space you’d need for the classrooms and all the gear therein, by, on, next to or whatever-
    Can my kids join in?
    Hell, can I join in???

    And I am absolutely certain that your school would be huge in succes.

  2. Wow, sounds like an enterprise match made in heaven, Ben Hewitt and the Mustache guy! Time to forget all that sweet cutie Lazy Mills stuff, sharpen the knives and start the badassity-badassketry school. Please add playing with fire to the curriculum per my four year old’s request, as he already passed his knife tests at 3.

  3. First off. SOME PIG!

    Then I love your school. If it were my school the only thing I would do different is have a variety of music: classics to jug band (and head bangers, too!). My husband and I have often remarked that it is sad that a the majority of people – in the United States for I don’t have experience of elsewhere – don’t know how to do basic things. Only people from the country know how to do basic things. Kids in your school would know how to do things and seems to me they would learn something that is in short supply – critical thinking.

    I used to work for a non-profit called Developmental Studies Center in Oakland CA. They’re trying to work within the system to make conventional schooling better. http://www.devstu.org/ I know, I know many of you will not think they promote enough freedom but they are an example of how there is movement to make things better in an incremental way.

  4. If you ran that school, the world would be a better place…& I’d apply to teach at your friggin’ school, even though I’m not a teacher. I’d teach the kids cooking & soapmaking & General badassery!

  5. Hey no fair…what about sleds and skates too?? Lots of physics lessons to be learned right there. And I’m assuming all science classes would be held outside? Where you can actually observe the scientific principles you’re learning about? Your school sounds perfect Ben – accept for one thing – you might need a few more tools for girls:) Crafting, cooking and drama are great hands-on ways to learn about math, design, reading, etc…

  6. A school without nose flutes is like a chicken with no lips. Accordions belong as well as pots and pans and spoons and washboards. Teachers encourage respect for each instrument’s limitations and potential annoyance quotient.

  7. Swimming from under the sea of legos here to say, if I had a school like THAT around here, I might actually consider letting my children attend. But then, I’d miss all the fun of teaching them myself. 🙂

  8. Only thing I can think of to add is each kid, at whatever point is appropriate to them, will choose an animal that is their responsibility to care for.

  9. You’d be surprised at how many friggin’ parents would send their friggin’ kids to your friggin’ school. I would love to teach at your friggin’ school in a friggin’ heartbeat. I’m a teacher, just a stupid gym teacher, and it would be great for so many kids to go to a school like that. So I’m friggin’ in!

  10. When I checked my email today, I saw two blog posts with very similar titles – yours and MMM. My husband has been a follower/devotee/fan? of MMM for about two years now and I just recently decided I should start reading what he has to say so that we can discuss it.
    Your #7 made me laugh. As a new parent, I only wanted “natural toys” made from organic materials. When we started receiving them as gifts (can’t afford to buy them ourselves), I realized that I could actually make a lot of them. As usual, things aren’t as B&W as they seem – plastic made in China or wooden made in Germany – the gray is that we can actually make them ourselves! (However, we will have to learn proper knife skills before we start any real wood projects – I didn’t learn that in school.)

  11. What is the point of formal/traditional school other than to prepare the student to the next step?

    Grade school, K thru 5, prepares the student for middle school.
    Middle school, 6 thru 8, builds the foundation for high school.
    High school, 9 thru 12, rounds out the student’s experience with a mix of required and elective courses.

    I agree that children should learn basic life skills like house and auto maintenance, how to manage personal finances, and cooking for one. I can’t see any good reason for most children to have fixed or folding knives.

    I want my kids to have a great foundation that will prepare them for success in college. Too many kids go to college unprepared and either struggle to catch up and keep up or drop out ’cause they can’t catch up.

    I also think that all American citizens who have a clean criminal record should spend their first eighteen months after graduating from high school in organized service programs like VISTA or the military. I believe that every American should give something back to his/her Country, but most never do.

    1. You really do not get the concept, do you Jeff?
      The whole idea is to NOT prepare our kids for the treadmill of todays society you keep advocating
      The idea is to prepare them to fend for themselves and thrive WITHOUT being tied to official programs, financial and social enslavement or government oppression. It is not that kids are unprepared for school and college. It is that those places force kids into a way of living and thinking that is the exact opposite of what they are like or are supposed to do.
      Serving the military? That proves that you are hopelessly blind. Why? Does the political establishment need more disposable puppets for their expansionism, their neocolonialism… or shall we just call it what it really is… Their unbridled desire to just take what they want by using force if all other options fail.. Theft and robbery on a global scale. In other words cannon fodder for the military. Any idea what happens to many veterans when they get home, Jeff?? Do you even care??

      Giving back to their country??
      Hell, their country is already taking much more than most can handle or give!!

      Your posts get me wondering; are you really that blind? Do you really believe what you are writing? Or are you trolling??

      Ohh…. and if this offends you…

      1. I like you, Ron. I was just going to tell Jeff that knives are mainly used for making spears and shit. But then dispassion grabbed me and I didn’t comment anything. But here you are full of passion. So I figured I would stand next to you like you do a fire on the last day of winter. I need to light my candles, Ron, and walk – one foot ahead of the other down the path – enough of this standing…. Or am I trolling?
        Oh, I don’t know… I think I’m more like an alligator or a timber rattlesnake. I need the sun to warm me, perhaps. And we seem so far from the sun right now… But, again, it is nice to stand next to your fire and remember.

      2. Masterful! Thank you Ron. Trolling? believe you nailed it, yeah Jeff, join the military, no knives there…

      3. Jeff’s comment on military made me so infuriated, it made me write my last post, reminding of Soviet military and totalitarianism and “giving it all to the country”, giving your whole life and personality to the country! So, thanks, Jeff for that reminder. 🙂
        Anyway, I doubt Jeff is blind, he would not be reading this blog, maybe he just wants to justify his decisions. . .

      4. Shit, Eumaeus, i mused all morning to find words of appreciation for Ron, how inadequate masterful is next to your reply. Your post came right after mine, should have waited. Hope there is room for me by the warming fire…

      5. It’s a slippery slope when a mention of military is made. All countries have military. It seems to be necessary for where human consciousness is at this point. Since WWI – and set in stone since WWII – U.S. military has taken on the role of being “saviour” of the world. We take pride in that and to an extent it is a good thing. But it’s all muddied in the U.S.

        IMHO the concept of military isn’t bad per se. I’ve had this conversation with my “Greatest Generation” dad once or twice. It isn’t always that clear that we are the “good guys”. So it’s a slippery slope.

        As in everything, it comes down to how we go about doing what we do. How we comport ourselves in a day to day basis in everything we say or do. All the way up to global politics. From micro to macro.

        To tie this thought-thread back to the topic, this school is such a great idea and wouldn’t it be great if it were blended with traditional schools? I was watching some movie about Julian Assange and the writers had his character say this: “Revolution is the confrontation between the past and the future.”

        My fervent desire would be that it is a peaceful confrontation. Which sounds like an oxymoron but maybe it can be done. It depends on the level of escalation.

      6. Not sure how Ben’s dirt school turned into military discussion.

        I gotta say one of many things I love about America and Americans is this free spirit that is still alive here, the spirit of freedom, the hunters, the mountains, the wild west. Even through all institutional jailing of schools, corporations, media, financial quagmire, the free American spirit shines in these people who comment here, who write, who teach, who take their kids to sleep in the woods. . even those who say the only liberal thing about them is their spending. A strange contradiction I feel in the USA, so much open-mindedness and much closed-mindedness. Hard to explain.

        So thank you so much for inspiration!

        P.S. Dutch are great, also, Ron. 🙂 Especially Dutch painters. And some of those clubs in Amsterdam I suppose, although I never tried them. 🙂

      7. Glad you got fired up, Ron! I love your passion! And you brought Eumaeus out of hiding. I’ve missed him!

  12. Don’t forget ‘tag.’ Our public school doesn’t allow the children to play tag because someone might get hurt. Messed up for sure…

  13. I guess airfare commute from NZ wouldn’t really work into the plan very well. Maybe I’ll have to set up my own friggin school!

  14. Fifty years ago this WAS the school I went to (except for #9). Sadly that curriculum has been chipped away over the years. I think you’d have a larger student body than you think.

  15. Reading this has me feeling inordinately lucky to have grown up in a school that was amazingly similar to what you just described. I’ve always explained it by saying it was school for unschoolers who couldn’t keep their kids out of school.

    Unfortunately, our friggin’ provincial gov’t shut them down last year. But back in the day, it was a rockstar school, I still remember the lessons leaned about politics when the school board wanted to ban skateboarding on school property and the teachers helped the student body petition the board and attend board meetings to present our arguments, we actually managed to change their policy! Talk about empowering!

    Honestly, if I wasn’t able to Unschool my kids, I’d be setting up a school just like Sundance for them to attend (oh wait, that’s what Unschooling IS, I just don’t get any funding!)


    I am proud to say I went to school here, and spent most of my days outside, read trough their entire Library, and didn’t do any math that wasn’t tied to a craft or activity I wanted to do for three beautiful years..that school made me what I am today!

  16. Do you think part time school can exist? Charter style perhaps? We are homeschooling now, and i love it. We do go to some local groups that are awesome, and i wonder if i could find a home and build a really pretty shed with a wood stove, if i could find some willing teachers to run these awesome groups in my shed school?! Anyone?! ( Building the shed school may be the first few weeks of school.)

  17. Your school might not be large, but it is most likely the only friggin’ school I would ever consider sending my boys to! But we’re doing alright on our own here in Rutland, too.

  18. Hi Ben,

    I have an almost 5 year old (actually turning tomorrow!) and I want him use real tools but there is a bit of a fear factor with a knife. I’ve thought about giving it a go in the future (more like age 7) but, maybe now’s the time? Can you tell me what size belt knife & what kind of sharpener you gave your boys?

    I really enjoy and appreciate your posts. They remind me about what’s possible and I find that I’m in need of reminders much of the time. I’m a former public school teacher now teaching preschool at a private Montessori-inspired school (where my son attends). Not my intended path (I really wanted to be an artist) but it’s ok. I love the sound of your school. My son gets very little time outside during the school day. If I weren’t a single mom life would be different…

    Keep the posts coming…I’m doing a bit of vicarious living.

    Thanks again,


  19. The first time I sent in my homeschool notification, it was returned as “unsatisfactory.” The reason? In explaining what we were going to do to address “Health and Nutrition,” I mentioned that we would work on knife skills, and for “Fire Safety,” I explained that we would be “starting and extinguishing many fires.”

  20. If that school was in Australia I’d sign my kids up straight away! Hell, I’d go back to school and join too. Will you accept enrollments of a 3yo, 5yo and 6yo as well as a 30 something year old?

  21. How about making it completely like real life and have all ages (adults and children attend.) Would love that!
    At the risk of being completely pegged as a hippie, I have to put in a vote for the Zither (thumb piano) in the musical program. Yes, I have one and yes, I play “Kum Ba Ya” on it, too. And, yes, my boys love it!
    Thank you for calling out Legos! I know they have their strong devotees but I have never liked them. They do seem to be the one plastic, too-many-pieces, visually overwhelming toy that even otherwise simple, natural – minded parents fall for. Natural materials can be used to explore construction concepts just as well, if not better, in my opinion.
    With this post, you have given me one more written template for our unschooling journey. Thank you for the validation!
    I have read MMM on and off for a number of years and I can see the similarities. He got a lot of comments a while back as to why his son was not homeschooled (readers seemed to think it would fit with their views and lifestyle) so it has been interesting to read how they seem to have come to a similar conclusion and are trying it out. I’m glad for the opportunity for his readers to be exposed to your writing. From reading some of the comments over the years, I know many of his readers live vastly different lives than you and many of us do. Nice when we can see the similarities more than the differences, isn’t it?

  22. In positive response to many who have said they want to enroll with their kids…
    I have brought the concept up to many people about school being a manufactured environment, what with kids being *only* around kids their own age. Remember how weird it was in school to have a kid a year older than everybody? He had flunked or something, maybe his mom enrolled him late… He stuck out like a sore thumb.
    Does a guy down the block from you, or sitting a few cubes down, or in front of you in line, stick out when he’s a year older?
    The folks I have talked to don’t see school as a fake environment. “The kids will socialize with EVERYONE” I say about home/unschooling. “But what about kids their own age?” Somehow that’s a necessity. If you don’t provide that, it’s a hermit environment. (Yes, they’ll want friends who are close in age; I mean only to disagree with the argument that kids need vast numbers of hours each week with other kids.)

  23. Interestingly…if the Friggin’ School never makes it past this blog, at least there is a school in Michigan that has a similar approach, the Goodwillie School found here: http://www.fhps.net/goodwillie/

    It’s an environmental school and the kiddos even make baskets similar the kind Ben’s sons have made [check out their website and pictures]. The students spend loads of time outdoors, they have an artist-in-residence program, and they do all kinds of neat stuff. The school was named for an outdoorsman who gave money to start the school. So, I guess we just need to find a benefactor to start the Friggin’ School…anybody rich???

  24. Hi Ben!

    Greg Ash here from Swaziland / South Africa; we chatted about Homegrown over email and just wanted to let you know I loved every page!

    Every time I get to read one of your pieces it is like escaping into another world!

    Today you made me laugh out load, I usually just chuckle to my self, but the idea of Lemmy and Motorhead; priceless, my dog’s name is Lemmy, his voice is kinda the same, grrrr!!! and I own the movie so I will show it to my son as per to the carriculum!

    If you ran the school I would definitely admit my son and would probably be inclined to sign up myself.

    I know the world would be a better place if there were more schools like the one you are proposing!

    Thanks for keeping me entertained, enlightened and more “educated”!

    Best wishes


    1. We actually had legos for a while. I noticed two things. First, when we gave the boys free access to found objects, they hardly ever used the legos. Second, if I’m going to have shit lying all ’round the house, I’d far rather it be made of wood, stone, and fiber than plastic.

      I don’t actually hate them. I just think they’re unnecessary.

  25. In the Doc. “Dirt” some wanted to rip up the asphalt on the playground. “But where would the children play?——— In the dirt!!!
    Hope your school has a dirt playground, and if you see this Ben, hope i get a hell yeah!

  26. Two great education books you might like that are really different from each other. They both have their problems, but they both have their brilliance too, so they’re good counterweights to each other.

    A Room For Learning by Tal Birdsey
    Memoir about how he started the small and unconventional North Branch School in Ripton.

    The Process of Education by Jerome Bruner
    Heavily referenced nerdy grad school kind of educational philosophy book that details a lot of good and bad points about education. His stuff on a spiral curriculum is considered landmark and can be applied in a lot of contexts.

  27. Our kids are in! And this is the second time in a month I’ve heard you reference Ishmael, so it seems the book to read. I read your posts to my husband, btw, while sipping homebrew. Our favorite kind of date night.

  28. It already kind of exists (in Denmark): http://dengroennefriskole.dk/ – The Green Free School

    According to the rumours, there are less knives and cooking than in your school, but they do start out by building their own furniture for the class rooms…

    I applied to get my kids in, but they received an overwhelming number of applications, and my kids will now have to go to a regular school (albeit with age-integrated teaching the first three years, that’s at least something)

  29. I’d like to be the first applicant to teach drawing skills in your friggin’ school, Ben, as that is something most kids decide they can’t do by grade 2.

  30. If everyone could extrapolate from their suggestions to make this friggin’ “school” all-ages, you would realize it would just be called the friggin’ world. Or your friggin’ community. Or your friggin’ family. And of course everyone is invited.

  31. I would actually send my daughter to your school!
    Until you take over the education system I’ll keep her at home with me, running our homeschool with a lot of the same principles.

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