This article was originally written for the American
Foreign Service Association Journal, who later decided not
to publish it. The editor had wanted me to recommend school-at-home
options, not understanding the true nature of homeschooling.
I hope that Embassy people everywhere can make some use of this
article as a way to truly "unschool" your children
abroad. At least choose an eclectic approach, choosing from options
that will best work for your family.
The desire to remain closer as a family has not escaped those
who work for the American Foreign
Service. While the lure of glossy advertisements in the American Foreign Service Association
Journal to send their children to private boarding schools
stateside may provoke some with their promise of attaining high
academic skills, others are noting that students taught within
the family setting have been garnering many recognized achievements.
This trend of teaching your own is called homeschooling
or home education. Parents have decided to take
prime responsibility for the day-to-day education of their children.
If a tutor is needed for specific learning
skills, they might hire one, just as a business person might
hire a consultant to come in for a specific job. An example might
be a piano teacher or a college student willing to tutor a foreign
language. But, by definition, homeschool parents, often with
the children having much input, control the curriculum. The "curriculum" may or
may not look like anything used in schools.
Now, I'm not in the Foreign Service, but when we started to
homeschool seven years ago, my techie husband had a contract
about 200 miles from our home. Just far enough that he could
only come home on weekends, or I could drive up for a spell.
It was not easy having a
marriage at a distance, and homeschooling our son gave us
more time to be together.
Foreign Service families also face this dilemma: should only
the one parent employed by the Foreign Service go abroad and
the other stay in the States with the children? Should the whole
family go and hope there's a
good American school for the children to attend? Should the
teenagers return to a boarding
school so they'll have something resembling a typical
American teen experience?
While I can certainly see a negative argument to having your
children with you in some countries
plagued by terrorists or real plagues like malaria, the dangers
of life in many countries must be weighed against the dangers
of leaving a teenager alone in the United States. Is the temptation
to turn to drugs any less in an expensive boarding school or
are the drugs just higher priced? Is the likelihood of being
a victim of a street crime any worse? Wouldn't safety be increased
with vigilant parents nearby rather than several continents and
From what I gather, American schools abroad are considered
to be quite good, at least through the eighth grade. But what
if your child's learning style
just doesn't fit in, and he's falling through the cracks; showing
it by misbehavior or tuning out entirely? What if she has a special
talent, but the small school just doesn't have a program to meet
the needs to nurture that talent? What if a child is just too
depressed by moving so much and you feel they would thrive with
more consistency in their lives?
Perhaps homeschooling would be the answer.
Foreign Service personnel have an advantage most others who
chose to homeschool don't have: diplomatic immunity. This means
that you do not have to concern yourself with local compulsory
education laws wherever you may be posted. Stateside truancy
bureaucracies are unlikely to harass you, and besides: which
state's laws would you be required to follow? The United States
as a whole has no homeschool education policy, so legally you
are free to teach your own as you please.
Freedom has its pitfalls, of course. There may be social constraints
within the diplomatic community unfamiliar with homeschooling.
Until your co-workers are comfortable with you not sending your
children to the "fine American school" or exporting
them to boarding schools like they do, dearest friends may feel
you consider them "bad parents" for making a different
choice. A good way to handle this is just to say, "We thought
about this real hard, and this was the best choice for our family.
I'm sure you've done the same." Leave it at that.
There are as many styles of homeschooling as there are homeschooling
families. (Close to 2 million in the United States.) While many
like to start out with a "one size fits all" curriculum
in a box from a distance learning
program, many soon wary of the constraints, finding that
customizing each child's education to their learning
styles and the means
of the family work best. With the internet, many free
or low-cost educational resources can be found.
When I told my 16 year old about this writing assignment,
I asked him to imagine homeschooling in a foreign country. (He's
already looked on the internet and found a good deal on a flight
to Europe. Can we go any time soon?) He imagines learning the
languages, immersing himself in the culture rather than learning
from books and media. He loves to be outdoors, biking or hiking
around. He'd be poking into all the interesting spots, learning
history on the fly, geography and culture by being there. He'd
be finding like-minding teens and helping them set up networked
computers so they could play multiplayer games. He'd be eating
everything in sight and having definite opinions on the local
cuisine. He'd probably spend about 2-3 hours a day doing anything
resembling school work, but the other waking hours he would be
filling his soul. He'll have the freedom to listen to his heart
and figure out what he really wants to do and what he's good
at. He'll be picking up his social skills primarily from adults;
his nurturing skills by his friendly contact with younger children
and the elderly. Because he'd be picking up these skills from
a multitude of cultures, this may make him seem more mature and
different from American teenagers. But to me, this is just fine.
All teens feel "different." What else is new?