Once upon a time, there was the “Salon des véhicules de l’Aventure” in Brittany. Every year, this exhibition gathers wheels and travelling fans for three days. From the huge 4 wheel drive off-road to the simple bicycle, each meeting ended with a crazy story to tell. I met Lalie and Céleste at this exhibition last April.
Under a small circus tent, Lalie, Céleste, their mum and step-father were presenting the adventure they had just experienced: crossing America from south to north in an all equipped truck. The trip lasted one whole year. While I listened to the conference, I asked myself: is school completely necessary to give a good education? I wanted to talk to them. I wanted to hear their experience. They lived their third year without going to school, without being in a class of thirty students, without having a thirty minutes break three times a day. They saw a different place every day for a year.
I met them at the end of the meeting. The discussion confirmed my feelings: they had many things to tell. Time was short during the exhibition and we planned to get back in touch for an interview. This done, their parents invited me to spend one night at their home in Brittany. After a few hours on the road, I arrived in their lovely village. I was warmly welcomed by the family. We could feel in their house the passion they had for travelling. Their half-full half-empty house announced an imminent departure. The parents, with their glimmering eyes, talked me about the sale of their home, about the purchase of their new camper van, about their pending nomad life, this time permanent and without a pied-à-terre. I am always impressed by how fast it’s possible to create a link. I directly agreed with everything and with the four members of the family, with their vision of the world, their convictions, their aspirations.
Lalie and Céleste had a great liveliness of spirit. I enjoyed having discussions with them. These two fourteen years old sisters had a solar energy hard to explain. Their pale blue eyes gave them a dreamy appearance. Smiley, very funny, these two teenagers already had strong and different opinions about things.
Three months before their departure for America, Lalie and Céleste’s parents asked if they wanted to travel with them. Lalie accepted the invitation without hesitating: “I have always been attracted by landscapes and travels. One year, it seems like a lot but it’s nothing in a life. Concerning my friends, I told myself: if they are true friends, I will see them after.”Céleste couldn’t believe it first: “It was madness! I couldn’t imagine. I didn’t know how to react. Then I thought about it, day after day, and at the end I told myself: well, why not? When I came back, we took up the old conversations with my friends. The year went so fast for them! For us it was long because we saw new things every day.” Still today, the sisters don’t know if the parents would have left without them or not. “Honestly, not sure at all!” said Céleste laughing.
During their year of travelling, Lalie and Céleste studied thanks to documents from the CNED.“Two hours a day, when we wanted to in the day, we practised. We did maths, history, geography. We learned English and Spanish with the app MosaLingua. Every day we wrote articles on our blog in order to practise our French (http://globsisters.blogspot.com). We also studied Sunday, except when we were hiking.” Céleste explained to me. They put biology and physics aside. They ended three quarters of the history program and the whole maths programme.
My exchanges with the sisters made me see learning processes differently. It underlined the importance of temporality. Some people need two hours to know by heart a definition, others need just ten minutes. When you go to school, you are a part of a group, you learn together at the same time. School demands despite itself a global rhythm that doesn’t fit perfectly for everyone. For Lalie, “The CNED is more developed, is harder than school. Before leaving, my average in maths was 9, when I came back I had 18. If I stayed at school, I would have had an average of 6. For example, at school, it went too fast. I had questions but others did too, and teachers couldn’t answer to everyone.” On the road, Lalie and Céleste took the time they needed for themselves.
Of course, their experience is unique and intrinsic to their life story, their meetings, their social and familial situation. They weren’t born out of the classic educative system, but they left it for a year. They are lucky to have parents who took care of them when they got tired of study alone. “For me, said Lalie, the beginning was very hard. I wanted to stop. My parents told me: “you can stop if you want to, but you have to know you are going to repeat the year. Céleste will pass.”I felt at this moment I didn’t want this, and I decided to give it all I have.” All year long, the two young girls improved their autonomy. Their learned to take initiatives.
When they came back from their atypical school year, Lalie and Céleste had difficulty to adapting back to the rhythm of a class. Lalie felt like she was wasting her time: “you did three maths exercises during the class, I finished them and then I had to wait for the other students to correct. In the meantime, you get bored, you wait.”Her sister Céleste agreed with her:“I had the same feeling of wasting my time. I was waiting all the time. You wait for the school bus, you wait for the lesson, you wait for the end of the lesson, you wait to put your hand up, you wait for lunch. When you are alone in the truck, you are way faster and you travel at the same time. You do the programme in two hours that you would do in school during an entire day.”
Traveling and studying at the same time, it’s learning twice more. I noticed this fact thanks to this interview. What’s more important than the maths programme in third year? Experimenting, taking risks, going out of the comfort zone. Instead of listening and reading stories, Lalie and Céleste lived their own.“In Ecuador, we played with children, their mother came to see us. She gave us a tour of their cacao farm. We picked cocoa beans, we opened them, we dried them, we kind of did some wwoofing.” Lalie and Céleste learned to communicate, to meet, to trust people. In meeting new people, they realised that there are a thousand ways of living in the world. “We learn languages in meeting people. We developed our own vocabulary and we were not embarrassed to talk anymore.”, told me Lalie. First pushed by their parents, the two sisters ended up by going themselves to talk to strangers. “At the beginning, I was so embarrassed! I didn’t want to meet and talk to people. At the end I could say hello easily! We talked with children, children brought us to adults, adults to their house, then to a hot chocolate. Before, I was afraid of knocking on the door to sell tickets for the school’s tombola. The trip made me lose my shyness.”
The girls learned to not be afraid of what they don’t know. “It’s not because you don’t know something that you can’t go see what it is, said Lalie. Most of the time people will not reject you. Each time, we noticed people were so welcoming and kind. If we didn’t meet them, we would miss beautiful opportunities.” In not fearing the unknown anymore, Lalie revealed to me that she is not afraid of being herself in front of the others: “Before going, I already felt I was out of step with people from school. I found everyone looked the same. I wasn’t understood with my colourful clothes. After America, I was comfortable with my style, my tastes belong to me, now I don’t care.”
In their all-equipped truck, the small family forgot their Western habits. Some points surprised the sisters when they came back and hung out with their friends. Lalie explained: “We are careful with the origins of products, how they are made, if it’s not too chemical. Our friends don’t think about these kinds of things. What is really weird is that they don’t care about the price, for us it’s so important! Sometimes two same products have a difference of price of 1,50€. They could buy the product every day without noticing that it’s more expensive.” Céleste added: “For example, the same sweets but just packaged differently, they have a price difference of 0,60€! If you chose the cheapest, you multiplicate 0,60€ buy 365 and you can be longer on travel.” They concluded by saying that spending much money is useless. “We had friends who think about buying the last fashion sneakers, the last mobile phone, each week they go shopping. We go to Emmaüs.”
Lalie and Céleste’s experience demonstrate that an alternative education is possible. Possible, but not without difficulty. Later on in the interview, Lalie broached the subject of the blues she had when the family came back in France: “For two months, I cried every week. I looked at all the photos. I missed it so much. I didn’t see landscapes anymore, being stuck in a house. There were some positive points: the shower, the big bed, the food. But It was nothing in comparison with the travel we just did. I would rather go without all of these and leave again.” She felt she was different after the trip, as if there were a loss of balance: “I didn’t feel understood. No one asked us real questions about our travel. It looked like it didn’t interest them. They just asked us: “Was it nice?” Well, no, it was horrible… With our friends, we had the same conversations than before. But I see things differently now. I didn’t see just one school, one landscape, one way of working. I saw other ways of talking and thinking in several countries, they didn’t see that.”
The two girls mentioned that there are short moments in the day that are tiring when you travel: washing dishes and clothes, cleaning and tidying the truck, changing the setup of the truck before going to bed… it took around forty minutes a day. They didn’t have time to chill, to do nothing, like a Sunday in front of Netflix. Contrary to her sister, Céleste enjoyed coming back to home, finding her own bed, eating French food, hanging out with her friends. Coming back to the roots is not that unpleasant. She missed her intimacy: “Sometimes in the truck, I covered myself with the blankets, I put myself in a corner of my bed like: leave me alone!”
When I asked them if they think that everyone should travel, I am surprised by their discussion. In Lalie’s opinion, if everyone travelled at the same time, people would be more tolerant and open-minded. She said travel makes you think differently. The two girls agreed to say that it depends on how you travel. “To discover new cultures, said Céleste, you have to leave your own culture, you have to go off the beaten track.” Some people don’t like this, added Lalie, and prefer having a steady framework. Céleste said: “We need people who run shops. To meet cultures, we need people from the country where you are travelling.” The sisters have a consistent reasoning. The actual economic system wouldn’t persist if each human being is nomad. Lalie and Céleste have a realistic look on things. They know an unstable world couldn’t last. They know the travelling experience they had were a wealth and a real opportunity.
Finally, the school as we know it in France isn’t essential to build an education. It contributes to learning to live in society, it creates a frame with boundaries, it teaches how to not hand over the limits. Another kinds of school exists: a nomadic one. With a nomad life, the kid is out of the class and can express him or herself more easily as an individual. He or she can take more risks to be their true self. Nevertheless, the feeling of being apart described by Lalie questions this atypical learning process: how, by leaving society, can you prepare yourself to live in it? As every system, it is not the perfect one and compromises are required. A nomad life is still a marginal experience. When you know It’s possible to live this way of life, you dare to see a future with many possibilities. You can see that with these two sisters. On the first side, Céleste’s first priorities are family and sun. When she will grow up, she knows she will still travel, but she will have a house somewhere. On the other side, Lalie dreams of a nomad life in a truck where she could sell artisanal products she will make herself. She explained to me that she wanted to learn new things every day, and just do what she wants. “I will come to your house sometimes”, she said, laughing with her sister who nodded.
Lalie and Céleste’s development during their trip questions the educational system. It tends to condition the students to a certain way of thinking. At school, the kid learns to think and to behave according to social norms judged as important by the ministry of education. The student learns how to behave in a group, how to not be noisy in a class, how to be good in some subjects. But how does a kid learn to say hello? How does a kid learn that the unknown person from the neighboring house is after all not that different from us?