by Georgina Kladensky
Missionaries should consider sending their children to national schools.
Children of foreign missionaries straddle two cultures. Their parents, representing the culture of the homeland, are often careful to preserve American customs, family structure and discipline in the home. The children are also exposed to the culture of the foreign country they live in, plus the special culture of the school they attend. On most mission fields it usually is a boarding school run by the mission or an associated organization.
While missionary children may, in their preschool years, adjust very well to both the native and home cultures, they often face serious difficulties in adjusting to the boarding school situation. The separation of children and parents, especially when the children are young, often puts a strain on the parent/child relationship, and tests the parents as much as the children. The seriousness of this strain often depends on a number of factors: the time the parents spend with their children; the number of relationships between the children and other missionary adults; and, of course, the difference between the parents’ discipline standards and those of the houseparents at the school.
The boarding school situation means that the parents and their children have a very limited time to be together. Normal child/parent communication problems are greatly increased; consequently, misunderstandings may arise more easily than usual. To avoid these special problems, missionaries should consider sending their children to national schools. That is my conclusion after studying the problem from the perspective of missionary parents in urban Latin America, where good national schools are available. Readers in other parts of the world will judge my findings in the light of their national standards of education.
First, let’s look at the problem from the standpoint of parents. As noted above, the boarding school tends to take the place of the parents, and therefore the children tend to pick up the houseparents’ values rather than those of their own parents. In addition, children tend to get a glorified image of their parents, thinking that they are perfect, because of their limited exposure to them. The parents are able to hide their troubles and problems from their children. This can make the parents quite unapproachable.
The missionary’s place in the community is different when leis children attend the local school and participate in community affairs. A real doorway is opened to the people by having contact with them at a different level. "Our missionary work has definitely benefited because the children help open doors that would probably remain shut to the gospel," explained a missionary in Argentina. National friends of the children come to the house and thus many upper-class people can be reached. They probably could not be reached through a crusade, or Bible study, or any other common tool for evangelism. Friendships made by the children can be a most effective channel for communicating the gospel.
Missionary children can alert their parents to the finer points of national culture. "We sent our children to Argentine schools believing that home is the normal place for a young child to live. As a missionary mother, I would appreciate knowing how Argentine mothers manage to keep starched, white uniforms ready for each child every day." These comments from a young missionary mother show that one of the best ways to learn national culture is through the experiences of your children. The culture is not just a thing to be studied, but at is something to be experienced in everyday life. Very soon parents learn that "our way of doing things" is not the only way. Very soon parents learn to give "a brazos" (hags) to their Latin American friends as they greet each other.
Another positive result of attending national schools is that the children can bring their friends to Sunday school. This helps them to feed a part of the gospel ministry. Parents will also know more about what national children are thinking; they can reach them an their level. ‘heir needs can be met more effectively this way than by depending on outside surveys. "My dad would throw youth nights and I’d ask kids to go to them. I was surprised that some of the kids would come. They came because of the personal invitation of a friend." Those were the comments of a missionary’s teenager in Chile. She had become an intermediary between the missionary and the nationals.
Effective contact with nationals can take place when parents are able to become leaders of the parent-teacher associations in the schools. This position affords an opportunity to speak to local and regional officers about Christ. Parents should realize that when they send their children to national schools, they probably will become more patriotically attached to the nation where their parents are serving than to the United States. Also, there is the possibility of intercultural marriages later on.
ADVANTAGES FOR CHILDREN
If missionary children are sent to local schools, there are certain advantages for them. To begin with, they will not face the problem of personal loneliness. At boarding school children tend to feel alone in the midst of people, because their parents are not there to give them tangible assurance of their dove. While attending national schools, the children can live with their families and develop a good self-image. They can receive more attention and character training at home than in boarding school.
Learning the language and other cultural traits is much easier when living at home. Being in a local school is conducive to acceptance by the national peer group. It enables the missionary child to get into scores of homes. The child will learn the language without an accent and will be truly bilingual if the parents speak English at home.
The children accept local culture as their way of living. Sometimes they endure "hardships" such as cold classrooms and different food. They enjoy what the Americans call "funny games." All of this helps the children to understand the way nationals think and react. It helps to make them fluent in reading, writing and speaking. They become truly bicultural. This is in contrast to those who attend boarding schools, where they may be inoculated against the culture of the land because of a lack of true contact with it. In later years the truly bicultural child experiences little difficulty moving across boundaries into other cultures. If he really gets into the other culture, he probably will have two sets of values. Integrating them will make him more adaptable and flexible to unusual situations that he might face later in life.
The child who goes to local schools need not experience the shock of reentering the "world" that some children face when they leave a boarding school. Such an experience can be very upsetting for the child who has been surrounded most of his life by godly missionaries and friendly children. On the other hand, if he attends a secular school, his religious and moral standards are questioned and repeatedly tested. But he also has more opportunities for witnessing. In Chile, missionary children attending the local high schools learn how to cope with the atheistic and leftist beliefs.
Educationally, there are pros and cons. Schools in Latin America, for example, emphasize rote memorization. Professors are specialists in their subjects and they emphasize lectures and fact-giving. A missionary’s child told me, "The hardest thing in the American schools was the term papers, because we had to think." However, children in national schools do establish good study habits, because the school hours are unusually long and they take home a great deal of work. High school classes start at 8 a.m. and continue until 5:45 in the evening. In Chile there are forty hours of classes a week. The curriculum is composed of 13 different courses – three of them are languages and three, natural sciences.
Another advantage of the national schools is the excellent quality of the teachers, that is, in the top schools. In many mission schools one teacher teaches two or three subjects. It is difficult for one teacher to be competent id many different areas. In the Latin American schools there is usually one teacher per subject. Scholastic standards are so high in Latin American upper-class schools that some students can come to the United States and skip one year of college.
Studying at a local school strongly contributes to the child’s concept of a home when he has to make the difficult adjustment to life in the U.S. later on. He is justified in thinking of the mission field as home, for he has spent a great deal of his life there. But he must also be able to identify his home in America as "homy," even though he may remain there only one year. The family itself rather than the house address becomes a vital unit in his own identity. If the child has been with his parents on the field, rather than at boarding school, thus will give him a sense of security that is essential when making the cultural change.
THE NATIONALS’ VIEWPOINT
After considering the parents and their children, we must also consider a very important factor – the nationals. First, we must remember that usually the boarding school is quite far away, and the missionary’s children do not relate to the national’s children, or visit the national church, except for two or three months when the rather nationals are attending school, so the encounter with them is very limited. Separation tends to stimulate superiority/inferiority ideas. The nationals feel that they are being thought of as inferior because their schools are not good enough for the missionary’s children. It is also possible that missionary boarding schools contribute to the "little America" complex, which is dangerous where nationalism is rising.
On the other hand, one missionary’s child who attended national schools told me, "I felt I had complete acceptance." People would tell her "You ire from the U.S. Why do you speak so well? You can even carry on an intelligent discussion." National church services are intelligible to the youngster who has attended national schools. They can also help in the church programs without feeling out of it.
By going to a local school, the missionary’s children can gain real identification with the nationals and a real understanding of their literature and history. "Just that you chose to go to our national schools shows that you want to become part of oar culture and not one of the American cliques," commented a national businessman in Ecuador. "Nationals loved seeing me going on parades and carrying their flag," a missionary student from Chile told me.
Many of the missionary children attending Latin schools are able to accept Latin values. The acceptance of authority in the home and schools means having much respect for the father, teacher and other students. It gives respect for people in general. It includes respecting others whoa are higher up in the class system, and accepting that Latins are very vulnerable to being hurt or humbled. It fosters close family relationships, with the relatives being a very important part of the unit.
A missionary is more aware of his Christian example than a person in most other occupations. The children can see Christ exemplified in their parents’ lives and are tremendously strengthened. If the gild receives his schooling while laving at home, then there is even more opportunity to integrate Christian example with everyday experience.
Some of the fondest memories of early childhood experiences from children of missionaries are the family worship times and bedtime stories. A special treat was "daddy’s reading of a Bible story instead of mommy," one child recalled. Family worship seems to play an important role in cementing family relationships, and making each member feel important to the whole.
The daughter of a missionary said that in the beginning of the year her father would always get out the school schedule and mark the important dates on his calendar, so that he would not schedule meetings or conferences on dates when she had a piano recital, drama, or something special.
From talking with the children of missionaries, I learner! that many parents do not even consider the national schools as possibilities. Of course, no arbitrary rule can be laid down in this matter. But enough children were positive about it to convince me that it’s well worth taking a second look at national schools, especially in Latin America.
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