PAM: Welcome! I’m Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca and today I’m here with Ben Lovejoy. Hi, Ben!
BEN: Hey Pam, how are you?
PAM: I’m very good, thank you. Just as a little introduction, I first met Ben many years ago and I think we just figured out it was in 2003, which was at the first Unschooling conference that we ever went to. And I have loved catching glimpses of his family’s unschooling lives and beyond, over the years. I’m so happy he agreed to come on the podcast to share his experience and insights with us. To get us started …
Can you share with us a little bit about you and your family and what everybody’s up to?
BEN: Sure. Well first, thank you for the invitation. I really appreciate it and it was good catching up with you before we really got started.
PAM: Yeah, it was lovely.
BEN: Yeah. So, I guess taking it back just a little bit, I was in the military for a while. I ended up retiring from the International Guard in December 2013. And Kelly and I had bought a piece of land, I guess probably about two to four years before that. And springing forward a bit, we moved up to North Carolina and we built a house on the piece of land that we had. Actually, I had to go over to Iraq for a while to make a little money for the family. Kelly and the boys actually built the house, Kelly was general contractor and the boys were there to help her do that. So, I did come back safe and sound. Yeah, it was pretty interesting that’s for sure! But I came back and I’m working as a Business Development Director for physical therapy clinics.
Kelly continues to work on the farm and we got a grant this year to set up a website with a lot of stuff, so that’s for a new project that she’ll be working on for quite some time. Cameron came home. He was a foreman and he came home for that build and before that he was in New Orleans. He absolutely adores…. He’s a swing dance teacher, he’s a poet, and just recently he started a book binding business. And he is getting ready to launch a bigger piece of the buy if you will, he’s getting some new equipment and launching a money campaign.
BEN: I think his launch is on the 16th of March, which is next Saturday. So, he is really busy getting ready for that. Duncan actually is in school. He’s finishing up his associates in Math, probably later this summer. Although all of the math classes are done, he’s just finishing up some of the prerequisites like Science. So, he’s at home and the whole family does a lot of story-telling through D&D and creating characters and all that stuff. He actually has been a stage manager at a local theatre for several plays which he’s enjoyed. And somebody in of his D&D groups has asked him if he wanted to do that some more but I’m not sure what he’s going to do. We’ll see how that goes.
PAM: That’s the fun thing right? There’s just so many options and opportunities, right? And it’s always fun to see what comes in and which way they go. Because you don’t know! You have an idea but there’s just so many places that they could take it, it’s just really fun to see what they decide.
BEN: Yeah, for Cameron – so he did drumming, he did some film-making, he did magic before that, he’s been writing pretty much the whole time. It’s interesting to watch and I’m thinking that some of the things that Cameron pulled out of that, you know some of those skill sets are still being used.
PAM: That’s another fascinating piece. Because even when something seems like it’s a little different, when you look back you see the thread of what it is they got out of it. So, whatever choices they’re making, sometimes you don’t even know what it is they’re getting or what it is they’re enjoying, but when you look back you can start to see the thread of commonality between it all even though it looks so different, right?
BEN: Yeah, exactly. Duncan surprised us recently. He and Cameron went down to a Folk Art school this past summer, or last summer I should say, and Duncan went down to do oil painting. And they show the first thing and there’s a piece of fruit – some oranges and stuff like that – and you see that. And then the next picture you see something else. And this is all in a week! And so, we’re getting there and we’re going, “Wait a minute, now we have two artists!” It was so cool. Maybe the math kind of puts it all together.
PAM: It’s perspective, right?
BEN: Yeah. Exactly.
PAM: That’s true. There is an art to math. Anyway, okay, so we’ll go onto the next question. As we already told each other, our conversation’s going to wander isn’t it?
BEN: That’s right, it will.
Let’s talk a little bit about how you guys discovered unschooling way back then and what your family’s original move to unschooling looked like.
BEN: Sure. We have to go back actually, to when Cameron was a little guy. So, I was full time in the military, we knew that we would probably move around a bit. We started looking at homeschooling. You know, right during the time when I was looking at an overseas assignment. That didn’t pan out necessarily, we came back.
Again, we looked at other alternatives and whatnot. And then the job led us back to Columbia South Carolina which is where Kelly grew up and so we decided that we were going to put Cameron into the school that Kelly went to as a young girl.
After a bit of decent time with the aforementioned magic, because he was extremely talented with that for a while, he one day said he was being invited into this realm of magicians who were mentoring him, kind of a Secret Society if you will. And Kelly said, “You can’t go on Sunday night because on Monday you have a paper due.” And he said, “You know I wouldn’t have a paper due if I didn’t have to go to school.”
So, we kind of stepped back, as it were. I think I heard that story about a month after it happened because I think Kelly wanted to make sure she had kind of grasped it and pulled it all together and stuff. That was kind of the start and by the end of that summer after he had finished sixth grade that was when we decided to do that. Getting into unschooling, there was AOL lists, a lot of email lists that people were on, Kelly was going through that and commenting reading everything, just devouring whatever she could about it and it’s what she ended up doing.
Of course, I was still working out of the house, so I’d get bits and pieces of it when I get home. So, that was kind of how we got started. It was more of a school at home thing, we didn’t necessarily have times or breaks or anything like that. The deschooling process took a bit of time, some of the kids were mean about it. “You’re gonna be an idiot, you’re going to be stupid, not going to grow up to be anything” and stuff like that. And I think he kinda still missed his friends, seeing his friends and stuff like that.
I think at about fourteen we started seeing some stuff going on. We had seen his lack of interest in school after a while. I like to refer to E.T. It was kinda like his heart light went out. He was probably about fourteen or fifteen started coming back you could tell. He was out of the creek if you will, and then it just blossomed from there. It’s been a really good journey for him and for Duncan for that matter.
PAM: So, did Duncan ever end up going to school at all?
BEN: No. First class…. and that’s an interesting story. Duncan’s first class was at a college. Basically, he went to a community college and I thought it was really terrific what they do. So, if someone is not good at Math or English, you do a report for the English then do a few problems on the Math, and if they find that you need to do something, like you need to do a little bit more before you get into the college credits they do something called DMA.
So, as a DMA student he had to learn arithmetic, division, multiplication, subtraction all that stuff. And then it elevated up a bit so he may have done some algebra problems or at least pre-algebra. It was a Pass/Fail kind of thing. So, he went through that, spring forward a couple of years and guess who one of the Math tutors is for the DMA kids? Yeah, its really nice, it really is nice. They really like him I don’t think he has any yelp reviews yet but I think they really like having him there.
PAM: That’s awesome I love hearing those stories because so often, and we had talked about this with Sue Patterson a few weeks ago, how parents often worry, “Is my kid going to be behind if they want go to college?” They still have that expectation of a certain level by a certain age.
PAM: Whereas Duncan was learning all sorts of things up until that point. He’s got a different life experience than the other kids who spent 12 years in school getting to that point. So, the biggest point is, it’s not that they’re behind it’s just they weren’t focused on that. Right? So, when his choice was that’s what he wanted to do, he spent those couple of semesters or however long it was, picking up that. It’s not that he was behind it’s that, “Now this is something I want to pick up”. And then look how fast he did it. Now he is tutoring people doing it. Just because you don’t have that yet doesn’t mean you’re behind, there’s something wrong, that you’re forever going to be behind, or anything like that. It’s just a different choice. isn’t it?
BEN: Right exactly. And I think part of that too is, the expectation of society is also very powerful.
BEN: Because of course you’ve got adults who are around who aren’t necessarily buying into what you’re doing. It’s a frequent thing but it’s not a solid conversation. A lot of the times they say it within the earshot of the child. You know, it’s your child, so it’s up to you, if you’ve got to have that conversation with somebody. You owe it to yourself, you owe it to the person you’re talking to, and you definitely owe it to your child to have that conversation with that adult, separate from their ears, in my opinion.
PAM: Yeah, that’s a great point.
Let’s focus a little bit on your journey to understanding unschooling cause as you mentioned you came from a military background. That’s where you were working. I imagine that was a big shift at first. Was it?
BEN: So that journey is still going on!
PAM: It is yeah.
BEN: That’s an interesting question. I have considered that back and forth and I can be glib and say that I always had some kind of a streak to do something a little different.
I think one of the things that I was telling a group of enlisted men and women; they were at a point in their career where there was a professional military education that they need to do. And all the way up until that point you’re being told, team work, team work, the team’s more important, the mission is important and this and that and this. So, they invited me to come in to say something to them, I’m sure they were expecting me to talk about good followers, team work and all that stuff, and I asked them I said, “How are you going to set yourself apart?” And they looked at me like that’s just not the way we are. I said, “Well think about it”. I said, “By the time you get to the point where you can be that man or woman who’s going to be the highest enlisted rank, there’s only going to be one per cent of you in this room who’s going to get that rank”. My point was you’ve got to do something to differentiate yourself and so to me that was kinda the way I looked at myself. “Well, you’ve made these rank changes because you’ve done things differently. Why don’t you look at your family life the same way?” And that was part of what I looked at, honestly to get to this point.
PAM: Oh wow.
BEN: So, I took my own advice!
PAM: You did. You definitely took it!
BEN: It took a long time. I think too, part of it I think is again somebody who has grown up a certain way, there is a lot that you’ve got to let go of and I think part of that is maybe you felt that you define yourself a certain way or something like that, and you’ve got to continue with that.
No, you don’t. I mean you really don’t have to do that and so I think it took me longer to make that transition if you will. Kelly was all about it, Cameron was all about it, I think once the deschooling started. And that actually helped a lot for me just to watch what he was doing and understand a little more about it, reading more about it, going to conferences, putting on conferences. All that led to my transition.
PAM: So really it was surrounding yourself with the information, with people who were doing it and just having an open mind about doing it; to think for yourself.
BEN: Right, I think so all those things helped open my mind but ultimately, it was my responsibility. But I think all those things – when you’re around kinder people you can be kinder. When your around funny people you try to be funny- I’m not sure that you are. So, I think just kind of watching other people and how they had done it, was a smart decision to make there.
PAM: Yeah that’s awesome. Now one of the areas that I know I’ve heard you speak about and have really enjoyed, is the dichotomy between rules and principles. And I think that’s something that’s near and dear to your heart because I have heard you talk about it. And I think it’s a really significant shift in deschooling for people. So, I’d love to dive into that with you.
I’d like to look into how rules get in the way of learning, and how does the shift in principles help open things up?
BEN: Well, I think in one case let’s talk about the rules a little bit. I think that there are certain rules in learning – let’s say in a college environment or any kind of school environment – if you go down that road if you will, and you are a math major I think there are certain things that happen. There are rules of math that if you don’t follow you may not understand how you get to the end of the problem. The principle would be to figure out another way to get there without using those same structured rules. Because there have been changes in math I think, that have changed over the years because somebody tried something differently.
That may not be the best example but there are rules that are set there for the purposes of safety. Obviously, math may not be a safety hazard or anything like that, but I’m talking about the military, maybe first responders- there are certain things you have to do. To me there is a reason – it’s called self-discipline. Because it’s up to you. It’s not up to anybody else to do that, it’s up to you. So, it’s kind of that way; it’s an intrinsic thing. If you know something is not right then why do you continue to do it? “I’m trying to break the rules”. No, that’s a personal thing. That’s an intrinsic thing.
I think rules are more on the outside that something somebody else has created. You’re supposed to just follow them and just move on. And again, maybe there are certain situations where peoples’ lives are at stake, there’s a certain way of doing things and you have to stay with that, but not in general life and not in general learning either. You know, the people create and maybe they didn’t even go to school that would be one thing, so to say they’re unsuccessful because they didn’t go to school yet they launched Amazon. Or Zuckerberg or a lot of actors for that matter. So, I’m not sure if I answered.
PAM: Yeah, so I think that’s a great point. Rules can have value, certainly they can have reasons etc. But as you were saying so many in general life we’ve just taken on as conventional rules, I think mostly as short cuts to not have to think about the process. Certainly, as parents with kids so often conventionally at least we just pull out rules just to control that moment as quickly and efficiently as possible. And it’s not taking the time to explain why. Just to open up the question why that rule is that way and then have the conversation if your child thinks of another way. Like you were saying, maybe there was another way to do it that gets us to the same end point another way that we’re looking for.
PAM: And it could be more creative, a different way, some way that works better for them, or a discussion around whether – do we even want to get to the end point? Do we even really need to get there right?
BEN: A lot of the times it is about that. The rules are there from your parents and grandparents did it, and you think that is the easiest way instead of stepping back a minute and going, “Okay are you doing this for yourself or you doing this for them?” Are the rules there for you to control the moment? or I don’t want to be bothered by this, this is the way it’s going to be let’s get to that point, so we don’t have to worry about it lets move on. We’re not trying to move on, we’re trying to understand. You’re intent on moving on, their need to understand sometimes diametrically. Hate to use that but they are diametrically opposed.
PAM: It’s true!
BEN: It really is and it comes in with as they get over the teenage years what you do about that it’s like – nothing.
PAM: Same thing.
BEN: There were no rules. Didn’t need them, they were already kind of self-disciplining themselves as I said. And that’s why it’s called self-discipline.
PAM: I think so much of it is because when we take the time to instead of just pull out a rule, to have a conversation about what’s going on in that moment, right? So much learning is happening and there is so much learning about themselves, about why they do or don’t want to do this, how they prefer to do or not to.
There’s just so much learning about themselves and about the environment right? Because you’re looking at the constraints in the environment and working that out into your discussion, so like you said by the time they’re teens they have so much of that knowledge and your conversations are just the new bits, the new nuances; for maybe they’re going further or thinking of different things etc but you don’t need the rules to control them. Even then it’s just the same thing. Conversations just kind of change up.
BEN: Right and then the other thing is, if they establish a pattern of things to make decisions like that, those are their decisions to make. They’re going to be much more comfortable if they’re in a position where they have to make a split-second decision because they’ve been there before. Instead of going, “Oh, what would mum or dad think?” And by that time it’s too late.
PAM: I love that point, because they are so used to making these kinds of decisions because they’ve had that experience for years, they’ve gained confidence in themselves. Self-discipline, self-awareness – all of that it is at their fingertips now, so like you said in that spilt second…
BEN: Yeah, and even the awareness of saying like calling at 2:30 in the morning and saying, “I can’t get home but I need to get home”. “Okay where are you? I’ll be there in fifteen minutes.”
PAM: Because we’ve established that relationship and that trust and that connection that they know that we’ll help them out when they find themselves in that situation. In any kind of situation where they need help, they’ll ask for it. They give it back too, I mean look at them, Cameron coming and being the foreman for your house build you guys had a need and he came and helped out. It’s a give and take relationship isn’t it?
BEN: Right. And I think the other thing is, and this is another example we had some kind of gathering in Columbia for some reason and people came down from Minnesota or Boston or whatever they came from and they ended up in tents because there wasn’t enough room in our house for everybody to stay there.
The kids wanted to stay there because all the other kids were there. One of the children came in and woke me up and said, “I want to go back to the hotel. I want to be with my Mum and Dad”. I was like, “No problem”. So, I’m telling you that because I think as a parents of our own children is one thing but to have other children who are that comfortable with adults not just their parents, to ask that question means that they’re self-aware of what their needs are as well. So, it doesn’t happen just with your kids necessarily, it happens with all the children who are doing this or have done this over the years.
PAM: Yeah this lifestyle, that is something that I have seen over and over. Especially when unschooled teens get together, even the kids. It’s not just the teens who have this level of awareness. It’s just amazing. And the longer that they’ve been doing it, you really can see the difference in self-awareness and understanding themselves and in often just reading the environment and adjusting. Versus kids who haven’t had that opportunity. I don’t even want to say schooled kids. It’s the opportunity to make these choices and evaluate these decisions and just have hose conversations with their parents; that’s what gives them that level of skill right?
BEN: Yeah I think it will be easier to say the kids who are with adults between three in the afternoon till nine at night, if they’re put off as far as not being seen as important in their own parents’ eyes, they’re going to see the same thing – right or wrong they see the same thing with other adults as well – in their mind they perceive it as that as well.
PAM: Oh I know. That just reminded me, you might have experienced it, when they’ve had friends in school and weren’t used to that kind of relationship with an adult. And they would be coming and visiting and you’d see over the months, a few months or it even took a year until they got to the level of comfort where they knew I was different from other adults. And they could come and talk to me, ask for things or make comments. It took a while for them to realize it, they could have a different kind of relationship with an adult than they were used to.
BEN: Yeah we had that at home in Columbia. That was the way that it was and one of Cameron’s friends, she actually came out to her parents who were extremely opposed to it and she ended up coming to our house and just needed to be with Cameron because he was her friend and she was his friend and vice versa. Her dad came to the house, knocked on the door and he said, “I need my daughter, I’d like to come into your house”. And I said, “Well you’re not invited into my house”.
Long story short, turns out her mother had a brother who was a lawyer and he sent us a note to cease and desist and all this stuff and so we kept the letter. And as we were leaving the neighbourhood the father after three or four years had said, “I’m really sorry that that went down, you were really good neighbours and she learned a lot and I’m glad she’s doing okay”. So, anyway it was interesting to see it came full circle even for an adult in that case, to say something. I’m not sure the mother ever said anything but she didn’t seem to ever say anything anyway. The fact of the matter is the young lady felt she could come to our house when she did, and that’s the way Kelly wanted it to be.
PAM: That’s a really great story, and it has been my experience as well and lots of other parents that I’ve talked too as well. It’s a different kind of relationship with our kids and teens isn’t it? It’s so, I guess respectful of them as human beings, is really what it comes down to, right?
BEN: It does.
PAM: It does. Okay so after spending a lot of time helping my kids pursuing their passions it eventually dawned on me that it would be good for me to have interests and passions as well. It’s not just for kids! You know at first when you start, okay they’re coming home they’re not at school anymore, you know it’s all about the kids.
Unschooling is all about the kids and you think you’re helping them and that’s it. But it grows bigger right? We start to realize that we can live this life too, and that it’s actually important and valuable for us to live that life in our family if this is the lifestyle that we want to embrace. You’re nodding your head so that was your experience as well!
BEN: Well, I think one of the things we don’t necessarily talk about from this perspective, and I guess I’ll try to answer it the way that I’m getting ready to. When you are presenting yourself to your children, they’re getting to know you as well. When you make these decisions and you make these choices you actually are allowing, you’re being vulnerable for your children in a lot of cases. They’re getting to know you as well, so they find you interesting. Hopefully they aren’t scared, but there are those times when that has happened. But the fact of the matter is you are opening yourself up to them a little bit more as well.
And so, with that I think there is a certain amount of comfort that as adults we feel because we have all this baggage that we feel we need to leave behind or are setting aside and moving forward. Not that I didn’t have interests before, I have always been interested in music even before I knew Kelly or pretty much knew anybody. Even as a little kid I sang Beatle songs. It’s even written in my mom’s baby book about me. I don’t really remember that, but it was something I had, you know these things that we may have brought at least to our marriage and definitely into being parents.
There is no need to forget stuff like that. I mean I’ve gotten into cycling, I’ve gone the equivalent to three times around the globe probably, the number of miles that I’ve done. I haven’t done that many miles lately but the fact of the matter is if you’re interested in something and you’re modelling something to your children that it’s not just go to work, come home, eat, go to bed kind of thing. And Kelly’s interested in about everything and her passion for things is beyond anything I’ve seen and definitely something the boys have benefited from – for sure. Cameron’s launch that I talk about, he’s already involved with silent auctions and doing auctions, and we did raffles and all that. It’s just interesting it comes full circle that’s for sure.
PAM: Yeah, I love that it’s such a good point. That we’re living the lifestyle alongside them. Like as you said we’re modelling that excitement and not expecting our kids to be curious about the world when we’re not. Cause that just leaves the message, without any words, but leaves the message this learning and curiosity is something for kids. And that is not the message of lifelong learning! That is kind of at the heart of unschooling. Going back to prepping for college, when we toss out the timeline ee learn things when we’re interested or when there is a reason or a need or something comes up we don’t also leave the impression that only works when you’re a child too. You go ahead.
BEN: No, you go ahead.
PAM: It’s something for everybody to embrace and once I realized that I had all sorts of interests and passions, then work and I really enjoyed work, and then having kids. I found that parenting took up a lot of time and so the things that I did that I still had some time to do like reading, I’ve always loved reading, I found were being done outside kid hours. You know what I mean?
So, they weren’t seeing that side of me, so it was so fun to realize as part of that whole deschooling time when we were getting to know one another that vulnerability, that releasing the need for adults to know the answers but instead to be curious and admitting when we didn’t, and helping them find it and being excited about it too; it just opens up all that curiosity that kind of got buried.
Then all of a sudden, I was doing it with them. I then could get excited about my own things and they’d be like, “That’s cool mom”. They’d know why I was excited. I don’t need them to be excited. But it was so fun to say look at this, look at this and we all just shared the things that tickled us.
BEN: Right, and that’s how you create your own traditions as well. In other words, you don’t necessarily see what everybody else is doing for this time of the year, that’s something that you do because that’s what’s important to your family. And it could’ve been what mom did, or what dad did or what Cameron did or what Duncan did. It didn’t really matter. It’s just that we kind of liked this so let’s keep this as part of what we do.
So, one of the things that we do is when have Thanksgiving, we do turkey. But for the year end party for Christmas it’s something that’s always different. It’s always different because we want to try something new. So, its traditional for this, it’s not so traditional for that, if you look at modern society or whatever. Again, I think it’s coming together at what are the traditions we are going to carry forward and stuff like that.
The other thing I would say too is that the children are going away at some time, if you aren’t interesting to your mate whatever that looks like, hopefully that interest that got you there sustained you. But that’s not always true—you have to kind of continue to evolve with that partner as well. So, the fifty to seventy or fifty to eighty, whatever years when you’re by yourself that reading is good, when you come home watching the football maybe that’s not fun all of the time, maybe fun some of the time. It’s also being interesting for your partner in that case.
PAM: Yeah that’s such a great point and because for me anyway having kids and moving to unschooling with them reawakened that side. I remembered that I didn’t have to get stuck in all those conventional constraints of how an adult is defined. And you’re right, that is me growing as a person. Yes, as a result kind of sparked through unschooling, but it’s so much bigger than just that. Unschooling becomes ‘just’ life. It just becomes a lifestyle; it becomes how we live. A catalyst for our growth as a person and within our family. So, it’s not that we turn it off when our kids are no longer officially unschooling and become adults, it’s just how we all live our lives right now. That’s very cool.
Now I’m curious what has surprised you the most about how unschooling unfolded in your lives?
BEN: I don’t know. That’s a good question. Not one that’s easy for me to answer. I think the whole process has been somewhat of a surprise for me. Until I got to the point where it wasn’t. So, I guess what I’m saying is my evolution – maybe because of the military, maybe how I grew up, maybe cause the way that I was… the look in the mirror, now that I’m thinking about it.
Looking in the mirror and going “Seriously? Seriously?” That was probably the biggest thing for me and realizing that was one of the things when we were doing the conferences to see the dads who were starting from jump street. You know the children were two years old and doing all these great things with their kids. And it wasn’t that we weren’t but we didn’t start it that low. And so, there’s things that they may have put aside a lot faster, those fathers and mothers would have put those things aside a lot faster. It was pretty interesting to see.
And learning from them was something I found I did, not necessarily my peers who may have had children of the same age and therefore we kind of got together and we still do get together which is another fun story altogether. But the fact that you learn from the younger fathers who came into the meetings, and stuff like that. I think that was a good thing. I think for me looking in the mirror and there were a lot of times I did it too. And sometimes still do.
PAM: That’s a good point. And I’m glad you brought up the conferences. I wanted to ask you a bit about that too. Because that’s something, as new dads who are starting to learn about unschooling, it’s a possibility. Some people travel far to get to conferences as well. And there’s some that may be close to you as well, but they may be wondering if it’s worth going to an unschooling conference what they might get out of it.
PAM: Yes, I love that. It sounds amazing and I can just see how you brought that enthusiasm for camp that you had when you were younger and have brought all of it in. It sounds wonderful.
So, I was hoping you could speak for a bit about the benefits that you saw for dads over the years, of going to conferences?
BEN: Sure. Yeah, I think at the time there weren’t that many, that was a big thing. People would travel like you said. I don’t know if it was Sandra Dodd or somebody else who said you know you’re an unschooler when you’re willing to travel eight hours over a Friday to get somewhere to see a friend of yours and then come back on the Sunday. If they’re within that eight-hour drive you’re like, “Yeah, of course we’re going to do that.”
PAM: Yeah, we came down here for conferences in South Carolina from Toronto.
BEN: I think I did something right at the end and I think we had… I think the biggest conference in terms of numbers, I think was the Albuquerque conference. I think there were people from forty-two states and six countries or four countries or something like that and of course Canada because one of the closer countries.
But I mean people were coming in from Australia and Germany and it was like, okay you know this is kind of interesting and New Zealand. Kelly still corresponds with somebody in New Zealand. And so, it was just that was the only thing that we had and what I would say to new dads is if you’re not going to go to a conference, a big conference where you could see a lot of this happening, at least get involved with your children at the local level. Even if the local level is at your dining room table or whatever. You’ve got to get involved.
It was a lot easier because Kelly kind of had the idea of how to do things for the conference, how she wanted to set it up. But there were certain things that she made sure of and that was to have a dad’s thing. I was volunteered to do that and so I learned a lot from that. I really did. Like I said, having the younger dads who’d done it from the start to some of the best friends I’ve ever had. Some of them live close by, some of them still far away. But we find lots of reasons to get together, whether it’s online or whether we visit each other.
The big thing is getting involved with your kids’ lives. And if you’re not already involved the unschooling philosophy or lifestyle or whatever you want to call it, it’s up to you to do that, it’s not up to anybody else for you.
PAM: Yeah I mean you’re back to that. It’s our choices right and I certainly know from the mom’s perspective how valuable it was for me to make those connections with people who were further along on the path so they could share their experiences and I could have an idea of where we were going. And they could talk about their experience about how they first started etc. Plus, I loved your point about newer people too. Because either they’re asking great questions that help me understand better what’s going on or they’re bringing their own take because they’re already at that place where they don’t have a lot of that conventional baggage.
So, just connecting with other people even knowing… like I remember when I first heard about unschooling basically what I did was I found a forum in Ontario and I saw there were people doing it. Okay, there are people doing it, it’s legal; let’s do it. Going to your conference was the first time I met another unschooler face to face.
PAM: Yeah. There weren’t any locally, that I knew of. That’s why I ended up starting my own conferences for a while. I ran them for six years to have a place for people who were semi-local to be able to come and see one another – to see that there are other people doing it. It’s not that you need their permission or anything like that, but it’s that connection, that understanding; just knowing that there are other people. And to be able to share stories. To hear their stories and to share our stories, it was so valuable.
BEN: Right, I think too if you consider the fact that a lot of this came about for Kelly she’ll say that it was purposefully selfish to bring all the people that she liked to come and speak at the conference so that people would come, and that was what we did for the first one. People she was interested in, people who wrote well or did whatever. But the fact of the matter is when you’re on the message board, unless you’re responding to someone specifically, nobody knows necessarily who you are responding to and then, are you going to respond by taking the bait from somebody who’s poo-pooing the idea? If you sit there face to face and talk to them whether you are in a separate room which there are all these opportunities.
The conference coordinator’s responsibility in my opinion is to give opportunities for all these thing to come to fruition, no matter what that looks like. Whether it’s an auction, whether it’s the talent show. Whatever it is, give as many options as you can for people to do that. But the one on ones where people could get together, those were invaluable in my opinion. If you don’t have the group like you were talking about, if you don’t have a conference, and when we really only had one conference—that was tough. I know it was tough. I felt it was our responsibility as parents to get out to see these people that we saw at the conference and not let that be the only time that we saw them. And we tried to do that. Those pictures that I sent to you, those are gatherings that we had over the years.
PAM: Yeah and like I said I ended up… I remember Kelly gave a little workshop at one of her conferences on starting a conference. So, a few of us went off, Catherine, Mary and I started conferences at the time and it doesn’t have to even be something formal like that. It can be starting a camp-out or just opening up your home every couple of weeks and say, “Hey, you want to come over and play or chat or a book club or anything”. You’re just creating opportunities for people to connect. You can’t put expectations on it, you never know. But when you’re creating opportunities things can happen. Be patient with it.
BEN: Right and you probably shouldn’t have any rules about it right?
PAM: Yeah exactly!
BEN: You can have the structure.
PAM: Well certainly be open minded.
BEN: Because anything can happen.
PAM: Yeah, exactly. I love that. Okay so I love asking this question! So, last question.
As an unschooling dad, what piece of advice would you share with dads who are considering or maybe just starting out on their unschooling journey?
BEN: Get involved. Whether it’s sharing your passion for baseball cards. Sharing your passion for football or going to a game, because you’re being true to yourself and you’re exhibiting that. And the involvement means, whether you like it or not, involvement means that you’re trying, you’re giving it an effort. Like I said, I looked in the mirror a lot and continue to do that. It may not happen right away but it’s worth your effort and your time and the investment that you’re going to put into it if that is the way you want to see it.
If you don’t get involved, I think the biggest risk you run is you may not get to know your kids. Maybe that’s something, you never got to know the adults around you, they were your parents or whatever. You’re basically taking that and giving it to the next generation by doing it that way.
PAM: I love that, that’s a really great point. You’re back to the opportunity for connection that we were talking about before. When you get involved you’re just having those opportunities. That’s beautiful.
BEN: I’ll give you a little bit of an example of how that went for me. So, I started cycling. Generally, our family when they get into something, they really get into something. But there were times as the boys got older, I was like I’m not spending time, I’m the bread winner Monday through Friday whatever the case may be, and I’m kind of feeling bad about going out for a ride.
Of course, Kelly had already observed it, she said what are you worried about? I said I’m not getting to see them. And she said well they’re not up till ten and you’re out on the bike by six, how many times have you come home and they’ve been awake? And I’m like, oh okay sure. I mean, what you do is you end up adapting and you realize that sunrises really are cool. It’s something that leads you down, pardon the pun, it leads you down a road. You may have known that sunrises were cool, but now you realize that sunrises are a part of your life for six years. They’re damn cool, sorry to cuss but they really are.
PAM: That’s awesome. Well thanks for taking the time to speak with me Ben, it was so much fun and I loved catching up with you.
BEN: Thank you as well, thanks for having me. I really enjoyed it.
PAM: It’s kind of fun to revisit it, isn’t it? It’s been a while since you’ve talked too much.
BEN: Yeah exactly. I think I was grey, but probably not this grey!
PAM: Before we go, where’s the best place for people to visit you online?
BEN: Probably through email firstname.lastname@example.org is really good.
PAM: If they’ve got any questions that’s awesome. Thanks so much Ben, have a great day.
BEN: Okay you too, thanks. Bye Pam.