BY: TIM O’NEAL
To most people, a school is a monolithic brick building with drab paint on the interior walls. It’s where students walk in line and sit at desks. A teacher stands in front of the class and gives information. Worldschooling provides a completely different concept, one where the student travels the globe interacting with different cultures and languages, and getting a first-hand look at the historical influences on the places they visit. Diverse ecosystems can be experienced, instead of just read about in books.
Worldschooling, or edventuring, is similar to homeschooling in that the parents, not paid teachers, are directing the education. Where it differs is that the curriculum isn’t limited to books, the internet, and whatever resources the local community can provide. If worldschoolers want to learn about the history of civilization, for example, they can travel to the Fertile Crescent, where our agricultural society began.
In some cases, worldschooling may resemble unschooling, where the student determines the course of study based on what they’re interested in at any given time. Under this approach, the parent is there to guide the student’s interests in a way that is educational. Some worldschoolers follow this method while others choose a way more resembling standard homeschooling. Those choices are made by individual families. The defining element of worldschooling is simply that education takes place while traveling the world.
There is plenty of criticism of worldschooling. Under the dominant educational paradigm, a person can only find intellectual development from a professional instructor in a place designated for that purpose.
Much like homeschooling, worldschooling is treated with suspicion or scorn by the public education establishment. A spokeswoman for the US Department of Education said of worldschooling, “Obviously, we do not condone it. Children must receive a suitable education. Even missing a week of school affects children’s attainment.” Some of the common concerns are that students will be poorly educated and socially underdeveloped. If a kid doesn’t spend five days a week in classrooms with others their own age, the argument goes, how are they going to learn to function in a social environment?
Hannah Miller provides a solid counter argument. When she was eleven years old, her parents took her and her three brothers on an adventure around the world. They started with a year-long bike trip through Europe and northern Africa. They spent the next nine years traveling to twenty-six countries on six continents, all while receiving an education.
After just a quick look at her blog, it’s obvious Hannah is well-educated and socially adjusted. She says in response to criticism about how her parents have educated her, “[Worldschooling has] fed my love for adventure, prevented me from feeling cooped up and frustrated like so many other teens, and let me draw my own conclusions about the world around me and those in it. Unhindered by the drama that seems to go along with being in a traditional high school, I can focus on the beauty, the conflicts, the joys and the sorrows of all cultures, not just my own.”
Anyone who has traveled for an extended period of time, especially with children, knows it’s not easy, but the rewards are unquantifiable. What better way to learn about the ways of the world than by getting out there and experiencing life outside the comfort zones of home and school?
Hannah completed her high school curriculum two years early and then started taking university courses online. She’s stationary at the moment, working on a bachelor’s degree. She has developed location-independent freelance work to support herself so that once she completes her degree she can hit the road again.
While there seems to be no question about the quality of her education, I was curious how traveling around through most of her childhood has affected her definition of home. Has she developed human relationships outside her immediate family? She responded to my question over email, saying, “When we first set off to Europe on our initial launch into full-time travel, New Hampshire still very much felt like home to me. I used to get homesick, occasionally. But after a while, my sense of home became more abstract. Home was no longer a geographical location, it was my family. Home was also that sense of community and comfort that you find anywhere friends and memories abound. The concept of home has become a global phenomenon for me. For me, it’s very community-based.”
Like any way of life, worldschooling has its drawbacks. There’s no doubt that kids who experience extended periods of travel are going to come away with lessons others might not pick up, or even agree with. The quality of any education depends on many factors, such as the ability of the teacher and willingness of the student to learn. Some kids will respond better than others. While it may not be for everyone, worldschooling does provide an intriguing example of an alternative approach and could be an invaluable experience for a family. It certainly seems like it has worked well for Hannah Miller and her brothers.