Sunday, July 22, 2012

Reflections on a Homsechool Conference

I don’t have time for a full blog post this week, as I’ve just come back from a homeschooling conference (or “expo,” they prefer to call it).  Just walked in the door a couple hours ago and found one of our cats had managed to shut himself up in my room.  For three days.  With no food or water.  Or anywhere to go to the bathroom.  Other than, you know, my bed.

So I’m a bit busy and a lot exhausted, and quite looking forward to sleeping in my own bed for a change (well, after further rigorous cleansing).  But, since it’s fresh in my mind, perhaps a few words on the conference may be in order.

We homeschool our kids more out of necessity than anything else.  When we lived on the East Coast, we sent our child to a Sudbury school, which worked really well for us.  On the East Coast (or at the very least in the Southeast), “homeschooling” meant your family were crazy religious fundamentalists.  This is primarily because the response of the Southern Baptist Conference to the integration of public schools was to strongly encourage homeschooling for their parishioners.  So, you know, there really is something to that perception.

So, on the East Coast (or, as I say, at least in the Southeast), if you’re a crazy fundamentalist, you homeschool, and, if you’re a crazy hippie (like us), you send your kids to weird private schools (Sudbury being just one option: Montessori, Waldorf, Progressive, Indigo, Reggio Emilia ... there’s no shortage of options).  But, when we moved to the West Coast, it just didn’t work that way.  It’s weird—you’d think that a nice liberal hippie state like California would be very open to weird alternative educational models.  But the truth is that the stringent state and school district requirements make it practically impossible to run such a school, particularly in the Los Angeles area.  Then again, we Californians couldn’t manage to legalize pot or gay marriage, so maybe it’s time to rethink that whole liberal hippie thing.

Point being, homeschooling out on the West Coast doesn’t (necessarily) mean lots of praying and basket-weaving for Jesus and that sort of thing.  Rather, it’s (typically) more of the crunchy granola barefoot children with annoyingly independent thinking and far too advanced vocabularies.  So that’s what you’re in for when you head to the California Homeschool Network Family Expo in Ontario (no, not Canada: San Bernadino County).

This is basically set up like any business or technical conference: there are sessions, with speakers, and a vendor hall full of people trying to sell you stuff.  Although it’s hard to say whether this is more aimed at the parents or the children ... for the most part, homeschoolers of this variety don’t distinguish.  Why shouldn’t the kid take an interest in his or her own education?  No one is going to be more impacted by the quality of said education, after all.  So people who present sessions, or hope to sell you educational aids, have to be prepared to deal with, shall we say, younger customers.  Which is probably good for everyone involved, all things considered.

Of course, a lot of what you get out of a conference is a social event.  I spoke a bit about this last year in relation to my trip to YAPC, which is a technical conference for Perl programmers (of which I am one).  In fact, one of the things I lamented at that time was not being to take my family, because I’m a lot less social without them.  So this sort of conference is the perfect antidote to that: I got to meet lots of people (and see lots of people I knew previously) and I was always with one or another of my family to sort of “lean on,” socially speaking.

So we did a heck of a lot more socializing than attending presentations.  In fact, the eldest and I only attended one, really—we started to go for a second, but then realized we’d seen it last year—although the whole family went to a another talk given by the same guy who did the session we did manage to attend: Jim Weiss.  The session was on using stories to teach, which I thought was quite excellent.  The other talk was just him telling some stories, which was sort of like a practical demonstration of what his session tried to show us.  He really is quite talented as a storyteller.  Made me a bit jealous, actually.

Outside of official sessions, we enjoyed the reptile zoo, and our favorite vendor booth, the wonderful folks from The Comic Shop, where we picked up yet another version of Fluxx and yet another Munchkin booster, as well as a copy of Munchkin Booty (i.e., the pirate version of Munchkin).  Oh, and the first deck of Pokémon cards for the smaller animal, which is a bit depressing, at least to my future wallet.  But lots of fun stuff at that booth.

But, again, mostly just socializing.  We got to chat with lots of other families in the same situation as us and compare notes.  We got to see plenty of folks that we only get to see once a year at this very event.  We got to play a few impromptu games of Fluxx with random kids that wandered up to us to see what was going on.  This was our third year, and we had a blast.  So, all in all, we had a great time and we’re glad we went.  And I reckon we’ll do it again next year.

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