Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Let's tackle the socialization and homeschooling question

I know I'm not alone in thinking of the whole socialization and homeschooling issue to be a bit passe. Homeschooling, at least in metropolitan areas is pretty mainstream. Plus enough homeschooled children have graduated and are functioning quite well in the broader world that it's not quite the fringe movement that it used to be. At least that's what I blithely tell myself until confronted with another outrageous example of cluelessness.

I know you're dying to know what this most recent example is. Well, today was library day and while I was walking through the stacks looking for something else, I came across a book titled, The Family Sabbatical Handbook:  the budget guide to living abroad with your family, by Elisa Bernick. Sounds good, huh? J. and I would love to be able to do this someday. Plus, think of the blog fodder. It would rank right up there with 'family of 12 goes on 'round-the-world tour'. (Which we are still willing to do... and write about in hilarious detail... if someone would just provide the grant money. Hint. Hint.) Since it never hurts to be prepared, I picked it up to see what some of the advice was.

In full disclosure, I have only very generally skimmed the contents as I watched the littles entertain themselves in the library's play kitchen this morning. It could very well have some useful information (for families of four) and I do plan on reading it. As is my habit, I looked up homeschooling in the index as a place to start perusing. Oh my. Rarely have I seen the 'dangers' of homeschooling so explicitly laid out.

Such as, "It [homeschooling] requires considerable commitment from a parent or hired tutor and it can limit your family's exposure to the local culture rather drastically. We had originally planned to homeschool Cleome in Mexico for the first six months and brought along a number of books and workbooks with that in mind. But after only three [italics mine] days of homeschooling our plans changed radically. We realized that (a) Cleome needed a friend right away and school was the easiest place to make that happen and (b) homeschooling was a huge commitment and we resented the amount of time and energy it took away from our own creative activities." (Kudos for outright honesty for that last line.)

Or this, under the subtitle 'A Homeschooling Caution': "If you intend to continue homeschooling your children during your sabbatical abroad, I suggest that you think very carefully about the impact of that decision on your family's overall experience. As foreigners, you will most likely already feel a sense of isolation from the world around you. And schools abroad, even more so than back home (where there are usually other places to meet families in your area), are invaluable places to meet both local and other expat families -- something that's critical for experiencing the richness of the culture around you."

These examples really sum up three commonly made assumptions about homeschooling. 1. That homeschooling is time intensive, workbook intensive, and looks just like a brick-and-mortar school 2. That homeschoolers are isolated unless they find themselves near pockets of other isolated homeschoolers and 3. The only place for families and children to make friends and develop a social life is through school.

The first item I have dealt with on many occasions on this blog. I will say, that were we to take the whole family abroad for an extended length of time, I would probably not drag a whole lot of school books with me. Oh, we'd probably keep the math skills up and such, but there would be so many learning opportunities right outside our front door that it would be silly to spend too much time cooped up with a workbook.

Items 2 and 3 tend to go together. If you can only conceive of children making friends through school, then you must automatically assume that homeschoolers can only make friends among themselves. This makes me wonder then, do ex-pats without children borrow children in order to take them to school so that they [the childless ex-pats] make friends as well? This is ridiculous, of course, but if adults can make friends without the benefit of school, why can't children? My children have a wide variety of friends who come from many places... church, activities, neighbors. Just as you and I do.

I will grant that doing this in a foreign country where you cannot necessarily speak the language does make it more difficult. But that doesn't make it impossible. You still have to interact with others and given enough time you meet people and become more comfortable. For instance, when we were in Vietnam adopting K., M. really wanted a new ao dai made since she had outgrown her first one. There was a tailor's shop across the street from the hotel and so we went in. It turns out the couple who ran it were very nice and had a daughter a little older than M. The father spoke excellent English, having studied in the US, and we had a nice chat about his adventures in Iowa. A little surreal, but fun. I could imagine that if we would have been there longer that we would have returned to this tailor for other items of clothing, and in doing so would have had more conversations. Eventually after more conversations, a friendship begins to develop. Friends tend to introduce friends to other friends and so on and so on.

The difference between this and school is that school gives the illusion that you have many people whom you socialize with. I don't know about you, but just because you are surrounded by people doesn't mean that you have a lot of friends. There were many times throughout my school career that I didn't feel as though I had someone to play with at recess or talk to at lunch.

Of course homeschooling isn't for everyone. The world would be a very dull place if we were all exactly alike. It doesn't bother me if you chose public or private school for your children. And being in a different country does change the game a bit. I certainly know of homeschoolers who, for the time they're out of the country, choose to put their children in school. This could be for many reasons, a major one seeming to be language acquisition. (There are also countries in which homeschooling is illegal.) But it seems a bit much to write-off an option because it either didn't work for one person or because of preconceived ideas about it.
A couple of Pleven updates. First, Penny does have a family! I will be taking her off my rotation, but I will be putting Theodore (briefly, I hope) back on in her place. It seems I misunderstood the Bulgarian process. There are a couple of families interested in adopting Theodore, but the decision has to be made by the Ministry of Justice as to which family will be matched with him. Since he still isn't officially matched with a family, I will continue to ask you to pray for him.

Continuing to advocate for the children in Bulgaria. Their files were sent back which means that they cannot be advocated for on Reese's Rainbow or have any funds donated towards their adoptions. It means they are essentially invisible and unwanted. It tells the government and the agencies that yes, indeed, their initial assumptions were correct. No one wants a child like these. They are not worth it.

But they are! They are created by God in His image and we are called to care for them. They are truly the least of these. I cannot let them go; I think about them in nearly every free moment that I have. I'm going to post one of their pictures here at the bottom of each of my posts each day. Would you join me in praying for each of these children? Pray that a family would come forward who is willing to adopt them. Love them. Pray that they will know they are not forgotten. There is still hope for these little ones as their files can be specially asked for, it just adds time to the process.

This is Garnet. She is 10. Ten years old and lying in a crib. It's all she's ever known. How can we let this happen? How can we leave her there knowing now that she is there? Despite what she has lived through, she still looks as though she has life in her eyes. Imagine what she would look like with the love of a family.

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