9 Jun 2009


A much younger Jemimah with some truly multicultural friends in Yemen, 2007

The best part of school is that it has forced me to expand my horizons, to depart from my comfort zone and gain a better understanding of the world we live in.

I suppose you all know Mama Squirrel and the squirrelings over at Dewey's Treehouse. If not, climb up there right now and have a good rummage around. There is no end to the treasures to be found amongst the branches of that there tree.

Oh good! You're back then...

Before we left on our holidays, Mama Squirrel wrote some comments about this article, written by a former homeschooled teenager now at public school. You can read Mama Squirrel's take here. I've thought about this young teen's views quite a lot while we've been away - particularly her remarks about multiculturalism. You can see part of it at the beginning of this post. Here's the rest of it:

Even though I have studied the theory of multiculturalism, I never had a proper comprehension of what the word meant until I stepped through the doors of my high school. Our cafeteria is festooned with flags representing the ethnic origins of the school's population. It is comforting to be in a place where such an amazing variety and wealth of history, ethnicity, religion, and ideas can coexist not only peacefully, but also constructively. The best part of school is that it has forced me to expand my horizons, to depart from my comfort zone and gain a better understanding of the world we live in.
As we've travelled these last few weeks, I've come to the obvious conclusion that young Kassandra's homeschooling - all fifteen years of it - must have been very different from Jemimah's. Now I'll admit that Jemimah probably doesn't know the flags of the countries that she's seen but ah! the history, ethnicity and religion that she's seen - and experienced. Jemimah has been further out of her comfort zone at seven than many public school educated kids will ever get - even after they leave school. Now Jemimah's overseas travels have been pretty extensive, but they're not unique. Just imagine what Amy's kids learn while they live as a missionary family in Peru, or the Hunsucker kids in Ukraine, or Jimmie's daughter Sprite in China. That's what I call multiculturalism.

Now relax, I can hear your howls of protest from here. You don't live in an exotic land; you live in Melbourne or Brisbane or Manchester or Los Angeles or in a little town in country Victoria. That's precisely my point. You see, most of every year, so do we.

Jemimah still lives a multicultural life though. This past weekend, for example, she ate phở in Vietnam...well, actually it was Victoria Street Richmond, not Vietnam SE Asia, but it was full of Vietnamese people speaking Vietnamese. Afterwards she wandered the aisles of Minh Phat, the IKEA of Asian supermarkets. Another day she hung out at Kazari and ate tori no karasage followed by green tea icecream washed down with honeydew melon juice while she listened to her parents discuss Miao festival headdresses from Southwest China and their latest Bhutanese textile purchases with owners Jo and Robert. While there she watched their in-house conservator remount a 17th C six panel Japanese screen depicting the coming of spring and learned how to tell the seasons by the trees and vegetation and the motifs on the clothing. Last night back at home, she ate Hainan chicken rice and gai lan with oyster sauce before settling down to a story from her latest read-aloud, Folktales of Bhutan by Kunzang Choden. The throw she covered herself with was a Bhutanese yatra; the cushions were Japanese; the music in the background was Vivaldi. While she listened she tried unsuccessfully to do a tim tam slam. You can't get more Australian that that... (You can see Natalie Imbruglia showing how to do it on Youtube here, but sadly it is adult tele and contains a bit of blasphemy, so don't show it to your kids. You can, however, demonstrate the technique to them once you know how yourself...)

Then there's language. As well as her French, which she's been learning since she began to talk, Jemimah can speak a smattering of Arabic, Indonesian and Japanese. She can say 'Hello' and count to ten in another half a dozen languages and sing folk songs in even more. She orders her buckwheat galettes and crêpes in French from Leslie, her favourite Breton waitress at Breizoz and knows that Leslie will only speak in French back to her so she'd better listen hard to her reply.

Enough, already - I think you get the idea. Multiculturalism doesn't happen amongst the flags in a school cafeteria; multiculturalism happens on the street of any big city I've ever been in. If Jemimah went to our local public school, she would be in a room with kids almost all the same as her. The kids in her year are all Australians. They're all white, all Anglo Saxon, all nominally Christian. There's not even an Aborigine amongst them, let alone someone from Asia or Europe. Some of them are her good friends, but they're not multicultural.

Stepping through the doors of a school doesn't force you to expand your horizons, depart from your comfort zone and gain a better understanding of the world you live in, Kassandra, it's stepping outside onto the streets that does that.

Get outside and see what your city has to offer. Read about the world, sure, but don't forget to experience it too - warts and all. That, for me is what a liberal homeschooling education is all about...and we love it!


  1. Thank you for this post. I can only imagine what this girl's experience was at home.

    I am off to "class" but will revisit your meaty article.

  2. It's not like public education equals multiculturalism, even on a surface level (which is surely all most would get even at a very culturally diverse school). I went to pulic school all my life, but didn't even have a classmate of a different race or culture until high school! Even in my high school of over 1200 students we only had a few African Americans, a handfull of Asian Americans, a couple of Indians, and the rest of us were white.

    I have a friend who grew up in southern Florida where a large population of her school were Latino. She found that they all stuck together, and she felt very left out, because she couldn't speak Spanish. If the young lady who wrote the article found a school situation where kids of all different races and cultures mixed together freely, I think that's a unique situation indeed (and, good for her). My kids have met and gotten to know people of many nationalities and backgrounds without attending school. These friends are not token "internationals" befriended for the purpose of feeling good about our multiculturalism. They are human beings, fellow children of God, and friends!

  3. Good points, but part of the comfort zone the girl left to go to school was home, being surrounded by love. Having to be on a strict time table, and deal with in-your-face types. Our public school is in no way multicultural--it's a rural farming community--same families for generations. There are a couple of black/mixed race kids and few foreign adopted kids like mine. My kids were seen as "exotic" when we moved in--they'lived in 2 states and another country. What you are giving Jemima is invaluable. Learning that not all country operate the same way, that different cultures have different "polite" ways of eating, meeting & greeting, will help her no end. It amazes me when I've been abroad to see impatient Americans think the whole world revolves around "US" that a louder voice gets you "heard" faster and that it's ok to demand. All of which are generally NOT part of the local scene!! Jemima will thrive where ever she goes from developing a comfort level in traveling with you guys!

  4. I came over to see why you had linked to us, and I love it! :-)


I'd love you to leave me a message. Tell me what you like - and what you don't. Just remember that this is what we do in our family - it doesn't have to be what you do in yours...