Tis the season! Homeschoolers and homeschool bloggers are packing their bags and getting ready to attend all the conferences, curriculum sales, and conventions that start as early as February and run until August.
Although I’m not a huge attender of conventions (I used to have a very real fear of crowds and being touched by strangers), I understand the appeal. It’s like a sci-fi convention for a nerd – you can go and get your geeky fix of memorabilia, hear other geeks talk about your passions, and even make a few new friends.
Personally I have attended 3 large homeschool conventions in my life, and several more smaller curriculum sales, presentations, and sharing days. I’ve enjoyed them for the most part. I did a lot of research going in to the big conventions and was very selective about what presentations I attended.
Read about our trip to a conference in Kansas City.
At the same time, I felt very strange and out of place at some of those conventions.
In the middle of one speaker’s spiel, everyone was nodding enthusiastically about statements that disparaged more relaxed types of homeschooling. And I was sitting there in shock, not agreeing at all with the philosophy that was being shared.
So when people ask me if I recommend this or that convention, or what I feel about them, I generally recommend them. They are a good place to get information and touch curriculum to see if you like it.
But, I recommend that homeschoolers use discernment going into those conventions.
Discernment with the philosophical and theological leanings of the conference and speakers
It’s important to know what purpose a conference has. Do some research and find out what they want to accomplish, what they stand for, and what their general principles are for choosing speakers and workshops.
These questions are not meant to “out” any certain conventions, but they might be helpful in your discovery process.
Do they promote one “brand” of Christianity or one type of lifestyle? Or one kind of homeschooling?
Some conferences might be based around a certain kind of lifestyle. And that is ok. Just be aware of that going in. Also realize that other families might not fit in with that type of living, thinking, or educating – and that is ok also.
Is the conference limited to only speakers and vendors they agree with?
Again, it’s not bad for a conference to have a focus. But some conferences tend to only allow speakers and presentations that fit within their beliefs. This leaves out a lot of people and it presents a picture of homeschooling that doesn’t always get lived out in real life. It also leads to some silly political “fights” between homeschool curriculum providers and presenters. Susan Wise Bauer (author of Story of the World) has written about this also.
Are the speakers experienced and knowledgeable?
Do the speakers and workshop hosts have experience homeschooling? Or do they happen to be the latest celebrities in homeschooling circles? There is nothing wrong with have a few popular speakers, but wouldn’t you rather hear and learn from people who have been in the trenches for a long time? Who know their stuff and possibly know you?
Back when we lived in Kansas, some ladies and I were at the very beginning stages of putting together a mini-convention for our area. Our idea was to just have some of the veteran homeschoolers bring examples and projects to share in order to encourage other families. We were specifically interested in showing a wide variety of styles and methods so newer homeschoolers could see that there were a lot of ways to accomplish similar things. And the beauty of it was that it would be presentations and speeches from people you knew – people who you saw living in your town. People you could follow up with and ask questions.
Discernment with the messages and claims you hear
Speaking of speakers and presentations, it is important to think through what statements are being made. Even when you talk to curriculum vendors, you must realize they are there to sell you something.
These pesky little messages show up everywhere. A universal statement supposedly tells you something about an entire category (of people for example).
It’s very easy to make a blanket statement about a group of people, a lifestyle choice, or a curriculum. It causes people to think in very black and white terms.
The problem is that usually the issue is more grey-area.
The message doesn’t even have to include the words all, none, always, never, or every. It just has to imply it. Try these on for size:
- Unschooling is unbiblical (this statement is nonsense anyways and it implies that no real Christian could unschool)
- Buy a curriculum that matches your child’s learning styles (implies that every child is going to enjoy and succeed at a curriculum simply because it matches how he generally learns)
- I’m thankful that my children have never been in the godless school system (yes – I actually heard a speaker say this -and it implies that universally, all public schools are godless)
Promises and guarantees
What is the message you are hearing promising? Do they use imperative statements? Statements that sound like, we must, you need to, in order to, it is necessary?
What guarantees is a curriculum provider making? Are they writing promise checks they can’t cash? No one curriculum is going to be the best. It’s not going to work for every kid. It’s not going to be the only choice. And you don’t have to buy the entire package. It’s your homeschool, you can pick and choose. You are free to use whatever parts work for your kids, in whatever ways that work, and ignore the rest.
What they say about other educational choices says a lot
Buffing up your own philosophy of education, lifestyle, or theology by berating others’ is immature and it doesn’t bring homeschoolers together.
I don’t listen to people who feel the need to talk about other choices in pity or judgment.
Read Jimmie’s excellent piece about not being a militant homeschooler
Discernment with the money you spend
We all get that new-book, fun resource, shopping itch. But just because I saved back $400 from our tax return does not mean I need to buy a bunch of stuff simply because it looks fun or it comes in a package.
The maddening thing about a homeschool convention’s curriculum fair is that everything is right there for you to browse and touch!
If your kids won’t use it, don’t buy it.
If you realistically can’t get through it, don’t buy it.
If you are confused about how it works or how to implement it, don’t buy it.
I wrote a series over at Natural Family Today all about choosing, finding, and buying resources frugally. Go check out: