School Choice & Charters

‘Why We Unschool': One Family’s Account in Outside Magazine

By Arianna Prothero — August 15, 2014 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

By Mark Walsh. Cross-posted from the Education and the Media blog.

Outside magazine tends to feature stories one might predict: “The Coolest Summer Gear,” “America’s Surprising Cycling Mecca,” and “Survive Anything: Five Tools That Can Save Your Life.”

But “special reports” on “the future of education”? Not very often. The September issue has just such a story, however. It’s a report about “unschooling,” a movement that has been around since the late 1970’s that involves, to oversimplify, keeping children out of the supposedly prisonlike atmosphere of compulsory public schooling and letting them set their own educational agendas.

As Ben Hewitt, the writer of Outside‘s “We Don’t Need No Education” piece notes, unschooling is a subset of home schooling, but unschooling families have long been associated with secularism, while many homeschoolers are motivated by religion. Hewitt asserts that unschoolers comprise about 10 percent of the estimated 1.8 million U.S. children who are home-schooled, though he acknowledges that “hard numbers are scarce.”

So what’s the “outside” connection? Hewitt is the author of a new book: Home Grown: Adventures in Parenting Off the Beaten Path, Unschooling, and Reconnecting with the Natural World.

The Outside story is a first-person account about how Hewitt and his wife, Penney, unschool their two boys, 12-year-old Fin and 9-year-old Rye. While their contemporaries head to school each morning, the boys usually head into the woods near their Vermont home to fish, look for mushrooms or wild onions, build shelters, or follow moose tracks.

There is some structure, Hewitt notes. The boys do chores on the family’s small farm, and the parents have introduced some Waldorf educational curriculum into their days.

Hewitt notes that “not infrequently I field questions from parents who seem skeptical that my sons will be exposed to particular fields of study or potential career paths. The assumption seems to be that by educating our children at home and letting them pursue their own interests, we are limiting their choices and perhaps even depriving them.”

“The only honest answer is, Of course we are,” he continues. “But then, that’s true of every choice a parent makes: no matter what we choose for our children, we are by default not choosing something else.”

If the boys want to become doctors or lawyers, they will, Hewitt says.

What he wants for his sons is freedom, he says.

“Not just physical freedom, but intellectual and emotional freedom from the formulaic learning that prevails in our schools,” Hewitt writes.

It’s a good read, even if unschooling, like mountain climbing, isn’t for everyone.

Related Tags:

A version of this news article first appeared in the Charters & Choice blog.

Commenting has been disabled on effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Evaluating Equity to Drive District-Wide Action this School Year
Educational leaders are charged with ensuring all students receive equitable access to a high-quality education. Yet equity is more than an action. It is a lens through which we continuously review instructional practices and student
Content provided by BetterLesson
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Well-Being Webinar
Attendance Awareness Month: The Research Behind Effective Interventions
More than a year has passed since American schools were abruptly closed to halt the spread of COVID-19. Many children have been out of regular school for most, or even all, of that time. Some
Content provided by AllHere

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School Choice & Charters Virtual Charters in Hot Water Again. Accusations of Fraud Prompt $150M Lawsuit
Indiana officials seek to recoup more than $150 million they say was either wrongly obtained or misspent by a consortium of virtual schools.
Arika Herron, The Indianapolis Star
2 min read
Indiana's attorney general Todd Rokita speaks at a news conference on Sept. 16, 2020, in Indianapolis. Rokita filed a lawsuit against a group of online charter schools accused of defrauding the state out of millions of dollars Thursday, July 8, 2021.
Indiana's attorney general Todd Rokita speaks at a news conference on Sept. 16, 2020, in Indianapolis.
Darron Cummings/AP
School Choice & Charters How the Pandemic Helped Fuel the Private School Choice Movement
State lawmakers got a new talking point as they pushed to create and expand programs to send students to private schools.
8 min read
Collage showing two boys in classroom during pandemic wearing masks with cropped photo of feet and arrows going in different directions.
Collage by Gina Tomko/EducationWeek (Images: Getty)
School Choice & Charters Opinion Taking Stock After 30 Years of Charter Schools
Rick Hess speaks with Nina Rees, president and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, on charter schools turning 30.
8 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
School Choice & Charters In Fight Over Millions of Dollars for Charter Schools, a Marijuana Tax May Bring Peace
The Oklahoma State Board of Education voted unanimously to rescind a polarizing lawsuit settlement, pending certain stipulations.
Nuria Martinez-Keel, The Oklahoman
3 min read
Money bills cash funds close up Getty