Monday, 9 November 2015

Home Grown

I've been meaning to read Home Grown ever since I caught part of an interview with Ben Hewitt on public radio (I never hear a full program because the only chance I get to listen is in the car or while changing the baby).  Finally, I ordered a copy via interlibrary loan, all the way from Dallas. Really, no copies in Mississippi libraries?

This is a short book, part memoir, part essays, that explains the Hewitts' unconventional choice in raising their sons because, as Ben Hewitt says, the boys' education is so much a part of their whole life that it wouldn't make sense otherwise.

The boys' education might be described as radical unschooling - they spend their days outside on the family's homestead or neighbouring lands in Vermont, exploring, fishing, building, and even trapping. The Hewitts have let their children's education be entirely led by the boys themselves, believing that children have a natural inclination to learn that is often destroyed in a conventional school setting (though Hewitt is quick to emphasize that he isn't a proponent of any one method of education over another).

I read the book with fascination, curiosity, and a little fear - mostly out loud while feeding my own baby son (Hewitt's style was pretty good for soothing him to sleep). Partly because I'm now raising a boy after nearly nineteen years of girls, and partly because I've seen the way early grade school is geared towards girls - and boys are punished for it - I worry about his educational development. Boys who need to get up and move are being told to sit down and shut up by teachers who find it easier to teach to girls' nature, or are constrained by their curriculum or administration to do so. Girls are now outnumbering boys in college - in some of my classes I have literally only a handful of boys. To those of us on the ground, so to speak, boys' educational disadvantages are obvious.

I know that if we are still here (please Lord, no) when he is school age that I'll keep him home from the girl-oriented baby-sitting that comprises the first two years of school. But would I let him wholly lead his own education? I think not. In my own way, I agree with Hewitt that many children today are tuned out of school but cut off from any sense of where else they might belong in the world - goodness knows I see them in my own classes. To me, a way of restoring that belonging is through a classical education, connecting children to the Great Conversation of shared history, classical culture and literature. That doesn't preclude a wonder with the natural world. In fact, at five months old, my little son is already obsessed with being outdoors. Only today, despite continual rain, we were out twice, patrolling the yard and feeding chickens with the help of a sling and umbrella. Still, part of me wishes I had the courage to be as radical as the Hewitts, and that's what kept me glued to this book, despite the occasional lapse into purplish prose (please forgive the criticism, Mr. Hewitt - I'm an English teacher!).

Read this book if you're a parent, especially if you have boys. Read it if you're daydreaming about living an intentional life. Read it if you are afraid to not conform. Really, read it.

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