Picks and Pans Review: Hard Times in Paradise

updated 09/07/1992 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/07/1992 01:00AM

by David and Micki Colfax

You don't meet people like the Colfaxes every day. The kind who buy some wooded land, build a house and for most of 12 years live with no hot water, electricity or telephone, raising the kids without school. Probably it's because they stay in the woods.

But three times in recent years, David and Micki Colfax and their sons have emerged to become media phenoms when first Grant, then Drew, then Reed won full scholarships to Harvard (a fourth son, Garth, now attends junior college)—leading to the parents' first book, Homeschooling for Excellence.

In Hard Times they tell how in 1971, after David lost his second college teaching job because of his and Micki's antiwar activism, they quit not only academia bill civilization.

Cut to a mountaintop in Northern California, where the pioneers bought 47 acres and, with how-to manuals and low-cost tools, began clearing a road and a house site. If we are to believe David and Micki, the boys—then roughly 8, 5 and 3—were hammering, axing and sawing away. The scene of a 5-year-old with wire, glue and pliers in hand, being lowered by rope into a canyon to stick pieces of water pipe together boggles the mind.

A series of crises, like Micki's life-threatening bee stings and a bad fire, convinced them—a decade later—to get a phone. The Colfaxes grew vegetables, hunted, sold firewood. The boys raised prizewinning goats and sheep, eventually creating a nationwide breeding business. It didn't bother the parents that Grant didn't learn to read until he was 9—they let need prompt learning. Wanting to know about Native Americans that once lived on their land, Grant taught himself to read with self-help books.

The only glitch in this fascinating story is that Micki and David can be rather insufferable in their intolerant judgments of their mainstream academic peers, hippie neighbors and all the average folk who aren't devoting their lives to causes. But we don't have to socialize with them. We can get to know them from a distance and share their remarkable experience, warm and snug, bathed in the light of a 100-watt bulb. (Warner, $19.95)

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