Sunday, May 31, 2009

Home-schooling is not just a national phenomenon anymore. In 2003 in India, young Navaneetha Baskaran faced a dilemma: invest the time and practice necessary to develop his promising tennis career, or forget tennis and continue in the school he was attending on the Southeast coast of India.

He and his parents decided to home-school. Over the next five years, he studied at home, giving him the time to practice tennis eight hours a day, six days a week. He won the national championship in his age group in 2003, and represented India in the Junior Davis Cup in Manila, Philippines, in 2005. At age 15, he took second place in the national championships, attracting international attention.

Invitations to other countries were forthcoming. He was able to travel to Thailand, Korea, Singapore and the United States, as well as all over his native India. He also was signed by various sponsors.

After graduating, he went to Anderson University in South Carolina on a sports scholarship. There, he and his team won the Carolinas Conference Championship, and made it to the regionals, despite empty slots on the coaching staff for part of the year.

In 2007, he nearly died in a car accident that fractured his upper and lower jaws, broke several teeth and lacerated his arms.

“I couldn’t talk, eat, move my arms. But the worst was when my mom walked into the hospital after traveling for eight hours, and I saw her face, I saw how much love she had for me, and how worried she was. That pain was far worse than the injuries.”

Navaneetha reveres his parents, and credits them with all the blessings of his life. He has a special honor for his father, who has repeatedly overcome adversities in his own youth and early adulthood, supporting his siblings and widowed mother from the age of 16, then building and losing a business as a married man with a young family. That example helped Navaneetha in the hard struggle to regain his health and regain lost ground in his tennis skills.

“My father is a great man,” Navaneetha said. “He once told me ‘No matter how much money you make, how big a house you can buy, you can only occupy 18 square feet at a time. No matter how many clothes you can buy, you can only wear one set at a time. Never make choices based on money, but because you love it. What’s important is to live so you never feel guilt, so you can walk with your chest high, your head up and a smile on your face.’”

From his parents, Navaneetha learned the values that guide his own life. He observes a clean and healthy set of lifestyle choices, chooses companions who have good ethics, and honors those of all faiths.

“I think home-schooling helped me think for myself instead of just go along with the crowd,” he remarked. “I learned to trust my own mind, and to honor my parents. I found out that sponsors or friends can come and go. That’s not important. But my parents’ sacrifice, their advice — I really want to live like they do.”

Today, Navaneetha carries on the family tradition of service during breaks from school, keeping close in weekly phone calls with his parents and younger brother, Anirudha Baskaran.

It’s interesting to see how, despite geographical or cultural origins, home-schoolers seem to develop deep roots and the ability to see a bigger picture. Although Navaneetha’s professional goal is a sports career, he studies hard in college in his major of business management, maintaining a 3.0 GPA.

It’s inspiring to see a generation of youth from all over the world being raised through home-schooling, and to see good things happening through them.

Kate Tsubata, a home-schooling mother of three, is a freelance writer who lives in Maryland.

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