Since going public with our plan to take an extended family trip to Ecuador in 2014, we’ve gotten a few “what about…” kind of questions from concerned family and friends. Questions like…
- What about the water?
- What about crime?
- What about work?
But by far, the most commonly-asked question has been, “What are you going to do about school?”
So far as we can tell, we have three basic options for educating the kids while in Ecuador:
1. Enroll them in a local Spanish-speaking school. I worry that since we’ll be there for such a limited time and will be learning Spanish as we go, the kids wouldn’t get much benefit from this scenario. It also seems unnecessarily disruptive, since we’ll be leaving after a semester or two.
2. Enroll them in an international or English-speaking school. I haven’t been able to locate any in Cuenca, and my understanding is that they can be quite expensive. Plus, we want to have the freedom to travel and time to spend immersing ourselves in the local culture, and I think an international school might be an obstacle in some ways.
3. Homeschool. This choice is currently emerging as the clear winner. It’ll give us a lot more freedom and flexibility to design our time abroad how we want. Also, our local district offers some virtual programs and online classes for high schoolers, so there’s a possibility we can tap into those options even while out of the country.
You’d think I’d be jumping up and down over the homeschooling option. After all, I’ve often thought of myself as a homeschooler at heart, and we did homeschool for one year, when my son Jacob was in first grade.
But actually, I feel just as much anxiety. As a parent of teenagers, the topic of education seems much more fraught than it might have five years ago.
After all, taking elementary-school-aged kids out of class for a semester or two so they can embark on a rich cultural adventure seems like a no-brainer: they’re already strong readers and ahead in math; any other gaps can be bridged gradually and the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks.
But while I’m confident I can teach my 13- and 15-year-old sons to think critically, to use proper grammar, or to correctly structure a paragraph, it’s pretty much a no-brainer that I can’t teach them, say, chemistry or astronomy as well as an experienced and knowledgeable teacher could.
And even though the logical side of my brain reminds me that there is not a single year-long window of time during which a person can learn any given topic or else the opportunity has forever passed, I also know that re-entering high school behind in some subjects could be a challenge.
As a temporary homeschooler I won’t have the luxury of crafting a custom curriculum or letting a subject unfold over many years. There will be a lot of pressure to get it all done at once. And while I am confident my kids will still turn out to be knowledgeable, well-rounded people, the “but what will everyone else think” voice in my brain does make me worry.
So now I’m trying to turn that voice off. I have a lot of jumbled thoughts in my head about what it means to be “successful” and what I believe about achievement and education and learning to explore in a future post.
But for now, I can sum it up by saying that I think there are a lot of ways to define success, and for my kids, it is probably not going to look like the typical path.
(Considering I’ve never been very interested in doing anything the typical way, I suppose that’s not surprising.)
Yes, as temporary homeschoolers we might face a bumpy re-entry to life in the US. My kids might not learn everything they need to know to move on to the next grade level in all their courses. They may have a permanently dented academic record.
But I guess I just have to have faith that the rewards will be rich enough to make up for any losses. That my kids aren’t defined by their GPAs or test scores. And that I’ll have the courage to express that belief loudly and proudly in the face of criticism or curiosity.
As a mom I’ve made a lot of “off the beaten path” decisions and this, I suppose, is no different. I’ve made great choices, and I’ve made a lot of mistakes. And I know it’s all valuable as long as I keep learning.
Which, come to think of it, is exactly what I’d like to tell my kids about life, learning, and achievement. That success isn’t some number or goal you reach and then stop; that achievement isn’t something you reach for just to prove your worthiness to others.
As far as I’m concerned, life is all about getting to know the world we live in, being of service to others, and waking up each day ready to move on to the next adventure.
And if my kids learn those things, then I’ll consider them as successful as they need to be.