You might not know this, but I spend a great deal of time answering questions from readers. They come every day, in the form of email, comments on posts or articles or through folks who know us and pass the questions along. I’m happy to do it. Anytime I can help someone forward, it’s a win.
There are no stupid questions. There really aren’t; but there are a few I get tired of answering.
It’s not even that I get tired of answering the question, it’s that I get tired of answering the underlying assumptions.
This morning the question came in the form of a comment on an interview I did a while ago for my friend Bobby’s Wireless Ideology site. It’s a great site, you should check it out. It’s a collection of interviews on how people fund their adventures and the diversity represented is its best feature.
The question came from a reader and here is the excerpt that pertains to me:
I have a question for Jennifer: I guess you have been homeschooling your kids? How is that working out as they are getting older? I would think that some form of real schooling would be beneficial for a high school age kid, as well as a chance to make “real” friendships that last more than a few months.
I know three things about this reader:
- His name (Lorenzo)
- He’s got legitimate and genuine concern for his daughter and he’s asking the question for excellent reasons as he’s planning to embark on adventures of his own.
- He’s not meaning in the least to come off the way he did at first read, he’s asking honest questions. I gave a short answer on that post (as did both of my teenagers) you can read it there, it’s different from this post in specific ways.
The more I thought his question/comment over the more I realized that it deserved more than a quick answer. I told him I’d write a post about it, and here it is.
I haven’t written about education or socialization of our children on this blog in a very long time, mostly because they are old news to anyone who knows us and I don’t tend to beat those drums very loud for other people’s benefit. But since Lorenzo bravely articulated what I know very many others ask, here is my response.
Please know, if you’re reading, Lorenzo, that I appreciate the questions, they are excellent and valid and I’m going to do my best to lay it out for you.
Before I address the questions I have to address the two underlying assumptions that come with questions like this:
1. The assumption that we’re off on an adventure like this and our kids well being and education are an after thought, or something that we have to “make work” to live the way “we” want.
Nothing could be further from the truth. We are living this way specifically for the educational and social benefit of our children.
It’s not as if we headed off on a lark and then six months in looked around and said, “OH NO! We have four kids!! WHAT are we going to do about their educations?!”
We have a very specifically defined educational philosophy and this lifestyle best fits our educational and social goals for our children (in short, to be prepared to live life on any continent, follow their passions, be educated to the highest degree… university is not viewed as optional in our family… and to be socially equipped to function across culture and age gaps).
We adventure with and for our four kids. We waited until they were “big enough” on purpose. We actively solicit their input and their desires related to travel and education. We are not afraid to “make” them learn something that we view as necessary for their adult and future lives. Their educations are our first priority, as I imagine is true of all parents who are invested.
2. The assumption that institutional schooling and age specific friendships are more “real” or “normal” in some way than alternative schooling and multigenerational living.
We actually believe the reverse to be true. Institutional schooling is a relatively new phenomenon and it is widely recognized that one size does not fit all in terms of education. And as to age specific friendships, our current age segregated philosophy of child-rearing/schooling has so skewed our long term perspective on this.
When in life does a person spend 8 hours a day with twenty other people of exactly his own age and experience? Only in school (or the military) both artificial social constructs.
The real world is a much better “socializer” and prepares kids much more adequately to deal with the realities of cross age gap communication, learning and collaboration.
My kids are equally comfortable on a chicken bus chatting away in a mixture of second or third language and hand gestures with complete strangers, at a huge campout filled with life long friends in New Hampshire, eating in a market sitting on five gallon buckets or in a five star restaurant.They’ve learned to “say no to drugs” by hanging out in Amsterdam and “save sex for later” by attending Cabbages and Condoms in Thailand.
They’ve learned about the consequences of those choices and hundreds of others, both good and bad, from the parade of strangers we invite for dinner and who we employ as prime teachers and “socializers” for our children.
- Nothing like staring into the blank eyes of an addict to “get” that it’s not a rewarding path.
- Nothing like hearing war stories from Israeli pilots with their “finger on the pickle” daily to evaluate politics and the separation of the government policy from the individual and to develop compassion.
- Nothing for inspiration to chase hard after your dreams like a big dude with dreds who plays beautiful music and uses the money he makes to change the world for a double handful of kids in Honduras.
That, my friends, is real socialization, and real education, in the real world.
Now to the questions:
How is homeschooling going? Do we think that some “real schooling” would be beneficial.
The short answers:
Great. And, in a word: No.
I don’t feel the need to give the “annual review” on my kid’s educational progress. Let’s just say that the state of NH (where we are registered) is satisfied that they are progressing at or above grade level and “commensurate with age and ability,” to use the legalese.
We’ve always homeschooled. This was not some patching of the educational ship that we adopted when we decided to hit the road. This has always been our plan and it has unfolded rather seamlessly, if I do say so myself.
We’re not anti-public school, it serves a place and a purpose, but it’s not for everyone and it’s not for our kids. We’ve never felt that “real school” offered anything (that we wanted) that we could not get for our children through non-traditional means. There are many things that an outside of the box education offers our kids that institutional school couldn’t no matter how fabulous the teachers or extensive the program or rich the funding. That’s a fact. Not a criticism. Just a fact.
As an aside: a definition of terms is needed. What is education? What is “real” school? Until those terms are agreed on, we really can’t discuss how to move forward for the benefit of our kids, or yours, or the masses. I would submit that “education” and “school” are not always the same thing and sometimes are mutually exclusive… but that’s a topic for another post.
I don’t know what it is about approaching high school that causes people to think that children who are succeeding wildly should now all of a sudden have the breaks put on their fabulous little lives. High school is no more difficult to manage outside the box than first grade is. It’s just a matter of finding the right resources for your child, and those abound, for parents who are motivated enough to look. I’m happy to point you in some specific directions on that front, if you ask.
…as well as a chance to make “real” friendships that last more than a few months.
Can I just say:
“Back up the freakin’ truck.”
I know that Lorenzo didn’t mean this the way it sounded. I’m sure he’s far too decent a soul to have really suggested that we are on this adventure at the expense of our kid’s happiness and real relationships. But there are other people who are thinking it, out there somewhere… I’m sure of that.
Right now there are a couple of hundred people who love us a lot, who are our “real” friends, some of whom we’ve met traveling and spent only a handful of hours worth in person who are SHOUTING at their computer screens.
Why? Because their relationship with us has been denigrated.
When I read this aloud to my kids, Hannah’s immediate response was, “Wow! Nice,” with a derisive chuckle.
Gabe screwed up his face and said, “WHAT?! We have real friends!”
Yeah. We were all a little offended by that one. Again, I know (I know) that it can’t have been meant the way it sounded.
Let’s begin with a definition of terms, again: what are “real friends?”
Is the validity, the realness of a friendship based on longevity? Is it based on having daily interaction in the real world? Is the quality of a love or a support group determined by the hours spent face to face? Can I be real friends with someone I’ve only met once, or perhaps never met at all?
I’ve had pen pals since I was a tiny girl. The most notorious: the niece of my fifth grade teacher, who when we started writing lived in Hong Kong. We still exchange Christmas cards almost thirty years later. We grew up together, went through our college days together, got married, had kids, and have shared a lot of the things that really matter over the years. Here’s the kicker: I’ve never met her. Is she my real friend? Of course she is.
The digital age is changing the way we define relationships and altering the social fabric of the globe. If anything, making, and maintaining very real friendships is getting easier and easier.
- Two nights ago there was an hour long cross-continental kid fest in my living room. Stories of chickens in North America and elephants in Asia were tossed back and forth via satellite between 11 best friends.
- My god daughter tells me jokes a couple of mornings each week over Facebook Chat.
- I’ve written a book without ever being the room with my collaborator and writing partner (a dear friend who I’d spent all of about 6 hours with in the three years of our friendship… we added a whole, glorious, week to that face time this spring.)
- I talk to my oldest friend every single morning (night for him) and we often go years between visits.
Traveling has added to our friend base considerably. We regularly tell people it’s the very best part of our journey. We connect with virtual friend in the real world and it feels as if we’ve been friends forever, because, we have.
Hannah put it pretty perfectly: “Real friends are the ones who stick around even when you’re not together 24/7.”
In fact, Hannah wrote her own (very articulate, if I do say so myself) blog post in response to these questions on her website: Edventure Girl
Here’s the bottom line:
We’re probably messing a lot of things up as parents. I’m sure there are consequences to our lifestyle and our family philosophy that we aren’t anticipating. I think that’s true of any parent, because at the end of the day, it’s all an experiment and all any of us can do is our level best.
If we’re messing up their educations and their social lives it’s very well thought out and on purpose.
If we’re doing things with our kids’ schooling and their world experiences that make you uncomfortable, by all means, feel free to ask the hard questions, but understand that probably the difference in application grows out of a difference in philosophy.
We don’t WANT our kids to be “normally” socialized or educated. Why? Because our culture at large is messing it up BIG TIME, take a look around and tell me if it isn’t so. Just a cursory glance at statistics makes that clear. There’s no evidence, other than the empirical (my own childhood, and the parenting of many families with grown children that we admire) that what we’re doing is going to come out any better, but we have great hopes on that front and, so far, so good.
You see, increasingly, “normal” doesn’t look so normal to us. We’re hoping for much better than normal. We’re hoping for extraordinary. Not that we need our kids to be extraordinary… don’t mistake me there.
I don’t care if they are janitors if they are happy and have a passion for their work. But what I do want, as a parent, is to have given extraordinary effort to give them every, last, living bit of myself and of what was within my reach to provide for them to start them on their way. I want them to learn to dream big, do hard things, work like crazy, serve with their whole hearts and not be afraid to fall flat on their faces in the attempt of the seemingly impossible.
They come from a long line of people who’ve done the seemingly impossible.