To D or not to D


That’s short for to PhD or not to PhD.  To pursue a doctorate degree or not, that is the question.  I’ve been working on a thesis proposal that has grown to 30 pages long in almost two months, taking a life of its own, abnormally delaying meals, disrupting my sleep and dominating my thoughts, the OC in me working on overdrive.  I’m also thinking of doing it DIY style meaning I’d undertake the project even without support from a university or an official supervisor.  It’s researching non-traditional ways of education while going around the world roadschooling my own children so the DIY fits within the framework of doing things the alternate way.

Then I hit a roadblock of getting little or no response from professors whom I emailed my research proposal to and started questioning, maybe I don’t have to do a PhD around this idea and save the tuition fee money for the trip.  Maybe a book is enough.  Or maybe I can still do both and be Superwoman in the process, haha!

Anyway, here’s the book concept.  Because it’s short, I can plug it in here.  The research proposal is quite lengthy so maybe I’ll chop it up in parts for the blog in the future or post the whole thing another time.

Dream, Drive, Delve

Roadschooling Around the World while

Researching Non-Traditional Ways of Education

Book Concept by Joei Villarama

I can’t understand how a child can dislike kindergarten.  The first few years of school should be fun, right?  The nightmarish episode usually starts later but for my six year old son in a Chinese kindergarten, it began prematurely.  He says they don’t let them stay long in the playground and one time, I witnessed the children queuing for the slide while teachers made sure they stayed in line.  It would have been an acceptable occurrence except the play area had many other choices – climbing walls, nets, bridges, spiraling slides and the kids were standing in line merely to use one straight slide, an image almost out of prison. My son rushed to me when he saw I had arrived to pick him up and clever boy that he is, he made a fast break towards the other play set and went about his random way trying things uninhibited by authority.  One child attempted to break out of line but was hastily called in by the teacher matched with a stare that means, don’t cross with me.  My son was the lucky exception because his mother happened to be the only foreign parent in the school.

Having lived in China for more than seven years, I saw the problems and deficiencies of the educational system from horror stories told by my university students.  I have been teaching English for two years and after seeing the worrying effects on students’ lives and attitude, I feared the prospect of my own children languishing in the system.  I was determined not to let the fire in my children’s eyes go out.

However, it’s not only the Chinese system where this lamentable phenomenon is happening.  In many countries, the stifling effects of schooling are felt, some recognized but not arrested fast enough to save minds from the cookie-cutter, factory assembly lines of irrelevant curriculum.  Then there are those who acknowledge the situation and have offered liberating alternatives.

My anxiety about the rigidity of schooling transformed into an eager and passionate curiosity to investigate non-traditional forms of education such as Waldorf, democratic schools, homeschooling, unschooling and Finland’s much-hailed system.  I started collecting books on the subject and kept buying new ones even without finishing the previously purchased book on my kindle.  Being a mother of two, I wanted to search for best practices for my children.

My husband and I decided to embark on a drive around the world, roadschooling our sons at the same time visiting alternative schools, centers and camps that offer innovative ways to spark creativity and foster the natural love of learning.   I’m eager for my sons to join the Tinkering School where kids literally tinker and build their own treehouse, rollercoaster, boat or whatever their imagination pleases.  This book takes an experiential jaunt around the world studying the options that allow children, teenagers and adults to experience education without the “fire going out.”  Instead it even fans the flames.

How is potential nurtured and how is it allowed to bloom organically?  This book gives me a platform, a reason, an excuse to survey the landscape as much as I want within the discipline of producing concrete output that hopefully may be of use and give back something valuable, no matter how limited, to the amazing and expansive landscape that it seeks to observe.

People who have similar dreams to travel the world with their children usually encounter great opposition and are discouraged from pursuing a radically divergent approach to life and education, especially by their own families who are anxious about safety and the children missing school, missing opportunities and missing out on life.  Disappointed over our plans, my sister-in-law said in Chinese, it’s such a waste of our children’s intelligence like we’re throwing away their whole future.  An important contribution this book can make would be the validation of this process as a legitimate and acceptable method that is no less rigorous, rich or fulfilling than the traditional academic forms of schooling and no less economically viable than the regular lifestyle of having 9 to 5 jobs.

Books and blogs have been written by families who have taken their children around the world and this book with accompanying blog would be an addition to that growing and considerable list.  The difference would be that there will be deliberate stops to check out, meet and network with people who are working in the fringes and even in mainstream education offering genuine change.   We’d also like to capture and share the adventure through video.

The following are the four main areas that this book seeks to investigate:

  1. What are the characteristics of best practices? What links them and what makes each unique?
  1. If there are many best practices throughout the world, what makes them replicable and how are they scaled up? What prevents them from being replicated and scaled up?  What facilitates the process of replication and scaling up?
  1. How economically accessible are these options in education? Ideally, these choices should be available to people within a wide range of economic strata from the poorest to the middle class and we already know how well served and provided for are the elite.  The bigger challenge of accessibility faces the lower and middle class so the question would be how adequately or inadequately have the options been made available to these sectors of society.
  1. How rigorous are these options in terms of meeting “standards.” How well do the students of these alternative modes of education perform in exams, university and their chosen careers?  This is like a trick question.  By presenting alternative options but reviewing performance using “traditional” standards, doesn’t that somewhat defeat the purpose?  Should there not be alternative systems of “grading” that doesn’t depend on the usual test scores?  How does one measure performance and results?  This can best be answered by asking the school leaders themselves how they measure their students’ efforts and output.  What are their goals and how do they rate the attainment of their own aims?


When we first thought of this idea, we planned to make the trip like the other families who bought one 4×4 vehicle and took it around the world.  When they needed to go over an ocean, they shipped the vehicle, flew to the destination and waited for the vehicle to arrive.  For our journey, we divided the trip into parts and are renting vehicles in some continents and buying second hand in another.  This is the general plan:

  1. China and Southeast Asia – use our own second hand vehicle
  2. New Zealand – rent a vehicle and drive for a month
  3. Australia – rent a vehicle and drive for a month and a half
  4. North and South America – buy a second hand vehicle, travel for a year or so and then sell the vehicle at the end of the trip
  5. Africa and Europe – buy a second hand vehicle in South Africa, travel for a year and then sell the vehicle at the end of the trip somewhere in Europe




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s