Traveling and Homeschooling from India, 12/15/13

We had a low key day on Sunday, so I wrote about homeschooling for the Sunday post. We did eat at a really nice restaurant, the Clay Oven in Green Park. If you visit Delhi, I recommend it.

Sean learns history at the Taj Mahal

“Don’t you have school now in the US?” This or a variation of this is a question we have been getting often while traveling with a 14 year old in India. People have been very curious about what a school aged child is doing out of school. It is a question that makes sense when you look at the attitude the Indian people have toward education. There is a drive in India to educate all Indian children. This is a culture that values education at a level you do not experience in the United States. At our placement, when they found out I had been a college professor, and that I write science textbooks, the teachers became even more respectful towards me. I have overheard Anil telling people about my background, educators are a big deal here. In addition, the Indian people seem to want a high quality education for all their children, girls and boys, rich and poor. It feels like they want a way up for the whole population, not just pieces of it.

As a side note, I think this is going to lead to tensions in India in the next couple of decades as the country is forced to deal with the low wages paid to many workers. Well educated people have expectations that their education will result in a better life for themselves and their family. Workers in the lower tiers will need better wages to have a better life.

There is a focused goal and a plan to educate the children too. It comes across as a system and a one size fits all approach, something we agitate against in the States. Students learn English, math, science, and computer science at a high level. Much of the learning they do is rote memorization. When I worked with the students this past week, I used the skills I had learned acting as often as those I learned as a teacher. Looking at this through my lens as a homeschooler, I am curious and interested to see if a country can find the jobs needed when so many students focus on the same set of subjects. These are all my opinions and observations, of course, and I have only been here a week. I should get back to the topic at hand. One I know much more about, homeschooling

A mandatory Hindi lesson

I don’t think Indians homeschool. I have yet to meet one, other than the staff at Cross Cultural Solutions (a group of Indians who deal mostly with Americans), who has even heard of homeschooling. You should see the looks on the faces of people when they find out Sean does not go to a traditional school. The administrator of the large Vidya school seemed shocked, truly shocked, that I teach my child at home and not in a school. One question I have never had an Indian person ask me is, “Aren’t you worried about the socialization?” Which is the most common question I get from non-homeschoolers in the US.

So what does it mean from an academic perspective to take your child to India for a month and call it school?

Sean is 14 years old. He has been homeschooled since he was 6. We have done a lot of traveling to all sorts of places during these years: France, Ireland, Costa Rica, Peru, Mexico, Canada, around the US, Ukraine, Austria, Hungary, Dubai and now India. In the beginning, I would have him work on his core subjects when we traveled: language arts, math, science, and history. This didn’t work well, and meant I had to lug textbooks all over the place for a month. Now we are more relaxed about the core subjects. We focus on those when we are home.

This trip we added an extra dimension by volunteering. One reason for choosing Cross Cultural Solutions is that they let Sean volunteer with us. Jim has done a project with Habitat for Humanity and liked it, but Habitat does not let 14 year old kids volunteer for them. Sean is placed with us as a stipulation to his volunteering. Jim and I are there if he needs us. I am right across the courtyard, but he is really under the supervision of the preschool teacher, the crèche teacher, whose program he works with.

Sean volunteering

For me school is about learning and academics. I do not worry about socialization in relationship with school. For me that is just not what school is about. If you are thinking that I have a socially awkward or backward son, you would be wrong. We deal with the socialization part in different venues than the academic one, like traveling the world and meeting people all over it, also we have a healthy group of friends back home. All this brings me back to the academic perspective, what is Sean learning during this month of school in India?

Before I give you my perspective, I asked Sean for his. “Things I have learned this trip are that: Americans have it really, really good, our problems are not that big, it is important to help make the world a better place, the world isn’t going to fix itself, and I really, really like little kids.”

My favorite item on this list is, “the world isn’t going to fix itself.”

Jim and I want to raise a global citizen. One who does not see everything through just one lens, the isolated, nationalistic American one. We view the world as eclectic and interconnected, and we do not think America has all the answers, not even most of them. We want Sean to take what he sees and experiences with him. That is why we do not travel through as fast as we can, staying in hotels that cater to American/European travelers. That’s really it in a nutshell. There are other things he learns as well, a bit of the language, a decent amount about the history of the country we are in, something about the social and political issues of the country.

At the end of the day though, I want him to learn that many people have looked at the same issues and come up with equally viable answers of how to deal with those issues. The answers are not necessarily better or worse, they are just different, money and language are two good examples of this. I want him to learn that there are some issues that need to be addressed, equality for females is one. On this trip, through the volunteerism, we want him to realize that he can make a difference. It is just a small difference, but he is only 14.

I realize that Sean is not getting the mainstream education most kids get. There are a whole bunch of kids getting that education, though, so it works for me. We need some people who are able to come at things from a different perspective too.