By Raquel Cool
Eight years ago, when Miro Siegel was 10 years old, his mom approached him with an idea.
“Miro, let’s get rid of everything. Let’s go have an adventure. Let’s live out of our backpacks. Let’s head south and see where the road takes us. Let’s say YES to everything,” Lainie Liberti, recalls in their joint TEDx talk, entitled Unschooling: Making the World Our Classroom.
The mother-son duo left their home in Los Angeles and never looked back. Today, they blog about their travels and lead international retreats through Project World School, which is their primary source of income.
Rather than dropping off their kids at public school, crossing their fingers, and hoping for an adequate education, more families are taking a radical leap towards hands-on learning.
Welcome to the world of world-schooling, a growing movement comprised of nomadic families who blend long-term travel with home schooling — home schooling, that is, without a home.
“I feel that the rewards Miro has gained from our lifestyle choices are immeasurable, Liberti told me. “I have seen my son step outside of his comfort zone, from learning and participating in a ‘real world’ education to volunteering and connecting with people young and old. In contrast to most Americans, I believe that Miro is learning that consumerism and ownership are not the keys to life. Through our travels, Miro has seen the human and economic impact of each phase of the global supply chain through sweatshops, cheap labor and small local farm workers to large city markets.”
The term itself, world class, means the best of the best. Does it follow that making the world your classroom is the best possible educational route, or are there severe drawbacks? Here’s an excerpt from a world-schooled 18-year-old’s blog article, 10 Ways World-schooling Has Ruined My Childhood:
“I’ve become a world-class snob,” she writes. “The first Shakespeare play I ever attended was at Stratford Upon Avon. I experienced my first live opera, La Traviata, at the Sydney Opera house. I’ve played gladiators in the colosseum of Rome as well as at a lesser known one in Tunisia. I’ve ridden elephants in Northern Thailand and eaten tropical fruits and delicacies in their home countries. Naturally, I’ve become a bit of a snob. No church is quite as fantastic as the Sistine Chapel. No cheese is quite as delectable as freshly made mozzarella bought from a vendor in Italy. No combination of colors can be quite as vibrant as those found in the highlands of Guatemala. No ruin as fantastic as Angkor Wat.”
At the end of the day, our educational system is meant to prepare us for a world that we can’t yet grasp. The future is unknown. As Ken Robinson said in his viral TED talk, Do Schools Kill Creativity?: “If you think of it, children starting school this year will be retiring in 2065. Nobody has a clue… what the world will look like in five years’ time. And yet we’re meant to be educating them for it.”
When you look at it that way, maybe integrating other models of world education doesn’t seem radical. Consider the alternative for world-schooling families: the American educational system which has been struggling for decades. The most recent PISA results, from 2012, placed the U.S. at 35th out of 64 countries in math and 27th in science. 32 million adults in the U.S. (or 14 percent) can’t read, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
Alison Teal, dubbed “the female Indiana Jones” by Time, was world-schooled before it was even dubbed a term. She was two months old when her parents took her skiing on Ausangate, the highest peak in Southern Peru. Her National Geographic photographer dad and yoga instructor mom whisked her off to the flanks of Mt. Everest, on a camel safari across the Rajasthan desert, the Amazon jungle, and other places most people only dream of. She also summa cum laude from the University of Southern California theatre and from film school at the University of California Berkeley. I asked her what she thought about formal education versus world-schooling.
“I never knock formal education,” says Teal, who has a YouTube show called Alison’s Adventures, which explores survival and sustainability around the world. “I’m highly educated in terms of formal schooling and I value it. Do I think it’s the end all? Do I think there should be a combination? Absolutely. So it isn’t about ‘everybody throw away every school and education and live out of a backpack in a tree.’ I don’t think that’s necessarily the answer. But I think the balance is important. That’s where the inspiration comes from.”
Raquel Cool is a writer and artist in the Bay Area, California. She is represented by Writers House. She is the founder of Cool Design Studio, where she creates fresh, modern websites for happy businesses.