#### Episode-1434- Ben Hewitt on Unschooling aka Immersion Learning — 32 Comments

1. I have finally (unlike many) used Geometry, Trigonometry and basic calculus in my work and life. Geometry is probably the most useful of all math skills, particularly for the use of triangles. Things like, telling you lengths of shadows based on tree heights and angles of the sun. Or figuring out an angle for something to be cut at. (Although there are generally other ways). I also think algebra is way more useful than most people realize. If you develop an “algorithm” (a set process) and abstract it out that you can tweak and tweak and tweak the inputs to get useful information. As you said Jack, excel spreadsheets come to mind. I personally think knowing what you’re doing is algrebra and what “it” is, helps, but probably not necessary.

For trig and calculus I was writing algorithms that dealt with Google Earth and creating polygons on a curved earth’s surface. How many people EVER do that kind of stuff in their life? My wife is a professional Geologist and I don’t think she’s ever even done trig (outside of doing Geo-physics in school).

I DEFINITELY agree that anybody can learn math, especially if they want to. I started teaching myself calculus, for the hell of it, and boy was it SO MUCH EASIER than in the college class room where they tried to keep it SO abstract, especially considering calculus is one of the most grounded in reality knowledges.

• Wait, now first I should say I’ve taken all math out there and used almost none of it past geometry. Everything before that I use all the time. I have used calculus professionally only once. I was working a construction job and one of our contractors undersized a footing and I had to compute the volume differential for back billing, so I’m a nerd and admit it.

But I have to know what you mean by “calculus is one of the most grounded in reality knowledges”? I’d say that about geometry, but how is looking at things like it was run thru an infinitely thin deli slicer “grounded in reality”? Or are you talking about differentials like position, speed, acceleration, jerk and jounce? I really want to know as I am always looking for a new ways to explain complex things to my kids.

• There isn’t really much more to say you’ve already said what I would say haha.
My remark regarding calculus is its a lot more applicable and usable than some people MAY give it credit for. “Who would possibly ever need to know calculus”. Seems like some sort of Craaaaaaazy math. Its really not. Sure doing calculus on trig functions with natural logs all over the place is another story.

The funny thing is the more you take differentials and integrals of everything in life the more you’ll realize how much everything is connected. Yes I’m referring to the relationship between position, speed, acceleration. But the same as well as the decay of energy waves, the difference between “1-d”, “2-d”, “3-d” etc.

I admit I do have SOME issues with the infinite to zero with calculus, BUT taking slices, is probably “good enough” in my opinion.

• The beauty of all math is it is grounded in fact, as long as we don’t bring common core idiocy into it anyway.

I have no issues with trig, calc, etc, in fact I have to say calculus made more sense to me then advanced algebra. Perhaps though because my grandfather taught me basic calc on a framing square. Anyone else even aware that such is possible to do?

• “The funny thing is the more you take differentials and integrals of everything in life the more you’ll realize how much everything is connected.”

This is why I loved calculus so much when I took it. You come to realize that physics and calculus, which was invented by Newton in order to do physics, can be used to describe almost everything in nature. I remember it blowing my mind when I realized that if you wanted to you could take a picture and determine the equation of every line and curve in the picture and in effect paint a picture using one huge messy equation.

All that being said, I’m a civil engineer on track to get my PE and I haven’t used calculus once since leaving school. A lot of the formulas we use were originally derived using calc but its not like you come up with the equation from scratch every time you want to do something.

• @Jack
I don’t know anything about this “common core” bullshit. All I know is my mom tried to talk to me about it and I knew it stunk to high heaven.

Advanced Algebra is definitely more full of shit, in my opinion. Especially once you start combining it with trig and calc. I find the more you combine all of them together the more you start to get into ridiculous land. Math is based off of math, and the practicality comes when you map it to reality (which isn’t always the case). This, one might be called “science”. Ever wonder where they get “constants” from? Its the big black hole in a math formula that can’t be understood using current paradigms. As I digress….

I totally get you. In fact, it wasn’t until mid way through Calc 2 in college that I even understood what the F___ calculus was. (This should tell you the STELLAR education I received in the Notriously terrible math department at Virginia Tech) It’s finding area, or volume. Or finding speed or acceleration. It’s understanding the ratios between various dimensions and the relationship they have between each other. The derivative of Volume is Area. The integral of area is volume.

I will admit though, GENERALLY if you have constants (the actual numbers) involved, most of this stuff kind of just evaporates into the abstract realm from which it came.

Another “sad” story about the lack of education fundamentals I’ve had. I didn’t realize what the COMMON statement “F of X” written as F(x) was until probably 6 months ago. I say its sad because as a computer programmer, I write those F() all the time. I could go on and on about this subject, but there are two things I’ll say about it. A. I know I am a damn good learner and B. I must have had one completely segrated education experience not to have been able to put all these pieces together. There has to be something wrong with education if I can’t even put these simple concepts together that I know cold.

• @Josh

I know right! I had some uhm, lack of a better term, euphoric experiences one night a few months ago, that sent me into a tail spin of using the concepts to understand how every bit of matter/energy relates to each other and ended up creating this graph that I need to finish that shows how they relate. I’m sure you would appreciate it.

C = a point, the number 1, Not Moving, 0 dimensions
X = a line, length, speed, 1 dimension. (I will note that there is no change, so think 1).
X^2 = a square, area, acceleration, 2 dimensions. (This CHANGES at a constant rate, so think X^1)
X ^ 3 = a cube, volume, jerk, 3 dimensions. (This changes at a exponential rate, so think X^2).
(There is more to this going higher and lower, but obviously these are the easy gimmies and show what i’m going after).

The funny thing is if you were to view all of these from a different angle it would change the way you’d measure/perceive it! The difference between all of these is increasing and decreasing the exponent. I’ll point out as well, as far as I can remember all energy’s decay at an exponential rate. Sound, light and half-life of atoms follow this.

2. I was a highschool dropout and it didn’t stop me from making more money than all my college grad friends with no debt. Nor from building my own business.Sitting there for 8 hours just isn’t for everyone.

3. Jack & Ben, you hit CENTER MASS gentlemen! I barely graduated high school myself, got paid to learn skills in the Army, used those skills to acquire a six figure job, used that job to pay off my wife’s institutional debt so she can home school our two children.

4. I don’t agree with all the tactics, but I got a lot from this interview.

Something that either wasn’t covered or I missed was discipline. I’m not suggesting traditional classrooms are ideal, however I think some structure and accountability (showing up on time and executing assigned tasks) can be pretty darn helpful if you ever want to be an employee.

I know a UPS district manager who commented that former marines are some of his most reliable employees. I realize being a UPS driver may not be a dream job, but it’s a solid job for a younger person. I mean no disrespect to Ben or anyone else, but if a such a manager is hiring drivers and sees a high school graduate with an honorable military service and a high school drop out, which are they more likely to call in for an interview?

Unlike universities, you don’t need to go into debt to earn a diploma or equivalent. I just can’t get behind that as a “good” idea” for 99% of people.

For my kids, I want all these foundations strong so they are able to seek as many different opportunities as possible.

• A parent, teacher, mentor, etc. only need apply discipline when the student is lacking applying it for themselves.

Expanding on that though, I have no interest in training my son to be a good employee at UPS. While many of those marines make good employees, I wonder how many would make good entrepreneurs or managers themselves.

• @Sean on another note what has public schooling done or produced in the last 10 years to indicate that you can trust them to give you children a strong foundation in anything?

This comment is what I refer to, “For my kids, I want all these foundations strong so they are able to seek as many different opportunities as possible.”

Makes me think of a guy I spoke to at liberty forum in NH two years ago. He was from Mass and not an attendee just a guy I sparked up a conversation with. Told him about free state project etc. He said,”I’ve thought about moving to New Hampshire, it has a lot going for it. I stay in Mass for my kids though, because the schools are better”.

I asked him better at what? Indoctrination? Standardized tests? Teaching a curriculum that will go 80% or higher unused in their lives? What exactly were the schools in Mass “better at”. He response was “they get higher test scores”. I asked him if he thought his kids test scores were even the results of that average, his answer was “um, I never thought about it”.

I said well since you are basing major life impacting decisions on this claim, for both your family and yourself, don’t you think may be you should think about it, rather than just accept that “the schools are better” because the people running the schools said so and gave you one cherry picked metric to assess their claim by?

I then ordered him a nice single malt scotch on me. It was clear the mind had been pushed to its limit for that discussion. He had no answer at all.

• I completely agree that discipline is important, but ask which venue develops more discipline, a regimented public school or a less regimented home school where kids are still required to do all the work, but require self discipline to finish. Taken from a work view point, which employee has more discipline, the one who works in a cubical 9-5 and gets his job done or the one who works from home and gets the job done?

The important thing is that the task get completed. I have two kinds of workers, those that need constant nudging and those that are self directed. I want my kids to be self directed, those are the ones who will succeed.
I think you are also confusing home schooling with high school dropouts. I don’t think anyone would disagree with the idea that kids should be taught to complete. Ben’s kids are not dropouts, they will get a diploma issued by the state that shows in some small way, that they are finishers.

I look at resumes and look for finishers. I’m not saying you should be like Jack’s fly and never quit, but find something and finish it. For Ben’s kids that was a bow and the hunting permit, for others it may be college, the military or starting a company.

• Exactly! I have had plenty of “school disciplined employees”. They don’t do what you say not to do, they do exactly what you tell them to do, great right?

I guess if you are running a department in a large company with a regimented structure and a time clock.

As someone who has established and run small agile companies these people are a disaster! You give them a task, they complete it, you are not over their shoulder and guess what do next, NOTHING. No independent thought, no initiative, they just wait for the next task. Sigh, so much for discipline. It isn’t discipline, it is compliance and people now think that is discipline.

You want to instill discipline, get them into a martial arts class or organized sports.

5. Oh, man — this was a great episode. I first heard of Ben through an article that was written about his family’s experience in unschooling a few weeks back. Thanks for having him on, Jack, to expand on that topic.

There’s so much great stuff in this interview it’s hard to know where to start. But I think I’ll go to one topic that was touched on peripherally throughout the interview — that is the idea of CONTROL that lies at the heart of much of the structure of public schooling.

A little background — I was raised by two public school teachers, am married to one, and several years back I left my job in the corporate world as a civil engineer to go back to school for teaching because I had such a passion for the field of history. I killed my studies, graduated with honors, and then lasted exactly one year as a full-time global history teacher (I was fired). I often joke with people now and say that I left the corporate world because I didn’t want to feel like I was a wheel or a cog anymore, but there are few places where you’re supposed to be more of a wheel or a cog than the training ground for society’s future wheels and cogs.

One of the most striking lessons I learned was how, when I learned to let go of control in my classroom and cede more of it to my students, how much better of a teacher I became and how much better students they became. They made connections in the material that regularly blew me away. Of course, this kind of approach went against the established curriculum which focused on using 10-year old worksheets to cram a bunch of useless information into kids’ heads.

While I miss being able to help young minds open up and critically examine their world, I now see my firing as one of the best things that happened to me, because no matter my efforts I would still have been stuck in a rotting institution that is designed to encourage social control, not help people learn to think for themselves. Of course, this outlook often places me at odds with my wife, who is still sadly invested in the system in spite of its overall insanity.

6. I homeschooled my kids until I had to go back to work due to financial reasons. I am glad I was able to do it because it helped teach them to think for themselves.

My son would fluctuate between D’s and A’s on essays depending on what they were to write about. He got an F on a paper when he debated the fact that “Not every kid needs to go to college”, and the top A for his graduating class when he wrote a 50 page paper on Alternative Currencies.

The kid’s smart, but definitely was not a good fit for conventional schooling.

Now that he’s graduated, he’s struggling with finding his way. Just doesn’t know what he wants to do yet, though he does have a part time job at Petsmart where he’s doing very well. I hear a lot from him that goes along with Jack’s episode on The Lost Generation.

I keep hoping he’ll find what he’s passionate about, other than learning anything he finds interesting on line, and maybe develop that entrepreneurial spirit. But, I have mostly worked my self out of the parent job and he’s become his own person, a young adult I’ve very proud of.

7. So glad we homeschooled our 4 kids (started in 88′, threatened by authorities, etc.). My main regret is that we didn’t do more of an unschooled system, and there where few home computers when we first started.

8. Question for those who have shifted from traditional schooling to immersion-type learning with older children (middle school age): I’ve tried probing my 12 year old son’s mind for what he would be interested in learning if he could learn anything in the world, and all he is allegedly interested in is Minecraft (video game). Maybe I am approaching it the wrong way? How do you get a child to broaden his horizons when he seems to have no interest in doing so? I feel like I have exposed him to so many different things – heck, we live on 5 acres out in the country with all kinds of livestock and he has no interest in even going outside! We limit his computer time to only on weekends, and only 2 hours a day, and he moans and complains the other 12 hours of the day that there is nothing to do. It’s frustrating for me.

• Hi Gator Bee,

Feel free to contact me if you’re interested. I do offer consultations in this approach and would be happy to talk about engaging your son in other activities.

Best,
Ben

• Thanks Ben! I’ve wanted to homeschool since my oldest was just a baby, but my husband was not on board (I work, he stays home with the children). He is in private school, but each higher grade, we have more and more problems with traditional schooling with our son, who is constantly getting in trouble for talking, not sitting still, and “talking back” to teachers. He is a straight A student, but this year his grades are starting to slip and he says he hates school :(. Now hubby is more open to the idea of homeschooling, at least for him. I’m going to be doing a lot of looking into alternative schooling this year.

• PS Thank you for your interview. I really enjoyed it and it gave me a lot to think about!

• I’d take another look at Minecraft as there can be a lot more there than you think. People have built working calculators inside Minecraft with it’s ability to create digital circuits. You may be able to use minecraft to segway into chemistry, physics and programming. I never put in the time but there are an awful lot of responsible adults that put a lot of thought into Minecraft. It certainly can be more than a useless distraction.

• Richard…I think you are on to something.

Gator Bee- Have him make an argument for what the value of minecraft is. Maybe sit down with him while he is playing it and ask him to explain the goals of the game etc. I know there is some pretty interesting stuff in Minecraft that my daughter has talked about. She is just getting into computer coding and I guess Minecraft has a lot of that. Sometimes as parents we see them sitting at the pc for hours and we think it is a waste of time. I was one of those parents yelling at my daughter to get off line until I realized she was writing a book with a friend over a game private messaging system. When I started to read the book I changed my mind. These kids have written some really interesting stories, with complicated timelines that included real historical events and people. Now, we do have rules for the pc. Work first and not after 8 since blue light is a huge issue with sleeping and my daughter has health issues that are still being resolved (sleeping is a huge part of her healing). I hope you find the right path for your family.

• Richard and macwa – thank you so much for pointing this out to me! I had no idea! I know that nothing would make my son happier than showing me how MC works, and if he can actually learn something from it, even better. He is in tech club at school and really enjoys learning how to write code and stuff I don’t even understand, so maybe there is something to this after all. Being an over-40 non techie kind of person, I tend to lump all computer gaming stuff into the “useless waste of time” category. Thank you for broadening MY horizons 🙂

macwa – I wish your daughter complete and total healing from whatever health issues she has.

“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.”

William Butler Yeats

• I think this is a good plan but think the work is to show the kids of the delight in a range of subjects, not just rely on the child’s delight as they will have a more limited range of experiences. I’ve been thinking about this a lot as I want to start to augment my kids learning till we can make the leap to home schooling. I wonder if there is a good resource for ideas on this topic, which is basically relating standard skills to real world projects that would ignite the child’s delight.

Is stuff like this part of standard home schooling like … teaching geometry and trig by surveying your property, or building a chicken coop. Teach area and volume by designing a rain catchment system. Teach spherical geometry by using a sextant to find your position on the Earth, fractions using musical notes, calculus using the volume of a pond, algebra by figuring out the better bargain between a small and large bag of some food item, density using soil samples, pH using gardening, English by writing to a company about a flawed product, etc.

I think Jen Mendez is doing stuff like this over at permiekids.com, but it seems different.

10. Really enjoyed this podcast, but then again this is an area I’m passionate about.

Folks have summed up a lot already that came to mind for me, but I did want to share a few thoughts.

First, here are 2 resources for an alternative perspective on teaching math (that often folks think isn’t very important or relevant) to kids:

1. Learning calculus may be more natural for a 5 year old than learning to do addition problems (http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2014/03/5-year-olds-can-learn-calculus/284124/?google_editors_picks=true)
2. 4-6 year-olds naturally think algebraically (http://www.permiekids.com/2014/09/29/podcast-181-teaching-algebra-young-children-natural-cognitive-psychology-approximate-number-sense-solving-x/)

This second resource is a link to a podcast with Moebius Noodles, an incredible resource for helping children learn math through natural, engaging methods, talk with Dr. Melissa Kibbe to learn the latest research on early algebra: how children ages 4-6 can use their Approximate Number Sense to “solve for x”. Dr. Melissa M. Kibbe is assistant professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Boston University and her research focuses on how infants, children, and adults represent information about objects (e.g. perceptual features, animacy, group statistics, numerosity, verbal labels). She also studies how infants’ and children’s early understanding of objects and numbers impacts how they learn formal systems, such as mathematics and physics, later in life. She talks about her most recent research that suggests teaching algebra to young kids is natural and how anyone can try this with kids.

Second, in response to Richard who wrote: “Is stuff like this part of standard home schooling like … teaching geometry and trig by surveying your property, or building a chicken coop…”

First of all, right on! This is exactly what I strive to help parents and anyone in the life of a child realize and do by helping first the adult empower the educator within who is then in a position to help children self-empower. It should and does look different for each parent-educator because we all have different interests, knowledge, and skills that we can model and share. I like the idea of, as a responsible educator, I try to place a dozen or so things along my children’s learning landscape each and every day. Some they pass by without even a real notice (doesn’t mean we can’t circle back and drop this or something similar again in the future – different time, different place, different way), some they eagerly grab onto and we spend a great deal of time diving into more deeply, and others are learned about and then set aside for the time being.

To me, one important element to any “schooling” is community, having a community of people, places, and things that offer different perspectives, backgrounds, knowledge, skills, experiences, and interests who can share and model a wide variety of things because children need to explore and learn about a variety of things in order to find their interests. I once heard, but I’m afraid I don’t remember where, the idea that democracy in its truest form is not about being able to elect leaders. Instead the empowerment that comes from democracy (small d) is realized when one can choose his/her own teachers. Keep in mind, kids may have absolutely no interest in the things that the parent values. That doesn’t mean the parent shouldn’t expose them, but they shouldn’t plan to exclusively teach based on what they value or see as meaningful. Value diversity, but observe and adjust accordingly. For example, assuming you can just teach everything through everyday activities (that you may be interested in doing) even things like exploring geometry by surveying a property may end up being incredibly helpful for one child and totally irrelevant from the perspective of another even though we see the connection and value.