Thoughts on the morning of my flight to Paris

My daughter, Johannah, lives in Paris right now. She’s an exchange student. She’s 20. When I was 20, I spent a year at a university in southern France. My mother came to visit me. Full circle.

I give a graduation speech in a couple of weeks to the local homeschool kids from our co-op. I’ve known these kids for ten years and have taught many of them in numerous classes now. What would I speak about? All the years I’ve known them? The various challenges they’ve overcome? Their collective adorableness?

It didn’t take long, though, for me to realize that what I wanted to tell them had to do with the future, not the past. I want them to risk. Home education is often as much shelter as anything else. Parents want their children to make fewer mistakes than they made. We want them to be free of the oppression of bad choices, and danger, and the regrets many of us harbor. So we keep them home, we guide their education, we supervise their friendships, we are selective about their extra-curricular activities.

And then we send them out into the world of college and adult life… and hope for the best. What is that ‘best’? It seems to me that the young 20’s are a rare moment in a lifetime. Big enough to drive, fly, drink in Europe, vote in America, volunteer in orphanages; unfettered by spouses or babies or home mortgages or careers or health problems. These “big kids, now grown-ups” can do stuff that they will never forget, that will shape their values for the rest of their lives.

Spending a year in France as an exchange student changed the course of my life. Not only did I learn to speak a foreign language fluently, but I was drawn to French speaking Africa for my early career. I’ve had an interest in and heart for the developing world ever since. I feel a kinship with issues and revolutions worlds away from Ohio just because I spent time living first in France and then in Central Africa, followed by time in Morocco.

I discovered the difference between first world “take it for granted” infrastructure and developing world hardships. I learned how to rely on myself in sticky situations without a mommy or daddy to bail me out. I found out that there are many ways to eat breakfast, or drink coffee, or flush toilets, or shower, or shop for vegetables, or dress modestly. I realized that my way (my familiar, seems-right-to-me way) wasn’t the only way, wasn’t the “morally clear, ethically superior, most efficient” way just because I am American.

Spending time in the Peace Corps or living in a foreign country as a volunteer, or student gives your young adults a view of the world that can’t be gotten from TV, newspaper articles, big budget movies or National Geographic, no matter how open minded. The best teacher isn’t information, it’s encounter. Once your kids are old enough to drive, they are old enough to begin that journey toward risk and adventure that will shape them for the rest of their lives.

Encourage them to dream of bigger vistas, send them to places they have never been, trust them to discover riches and ideas and empathies that you can’t yet imagine. This is the objective of home education: give them a firm foundation to stand on, and wings for flight.

I’ll be out of town traipsing up the steps of the Notre Dame, eating almond croissants and hanging around the Universite Catholique (where Johannah attends) over the weekend. See you on the flip!

2 Responses to “Thoughts on the morning of my flight to Paris”

  1. Joni says:

    Great encouragement, Julie! Spending a year overseas in 2007 made our family so much…more. Thanks and have fun in France.

  2. Amity says:

    I love this. I really like your insights about home-schooling. That phrase “This is the objective of home education: give them a firm foundation to stand on, and wings for flight” sums up what I feel about it. The sheltering protection is for that time of building the foundation, because we know they won’t have it when they take flight. I’ve been browsing your blog and website, and will probably order The Writer’s Jungle for the fall. I have a “Hate-To-Writer” as well as a few “Like-To-Writers.” I’m glad I found you on the web.