Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Homeschool conventions and conferences: Is this the way we want to go?

I recently attended a homeschool convention and had a wonderful time networking with other homeschool  families and discovering acquaintances from my area who are considering homeschooling . It was fun to catch up with people, share experiences, and both give and receive tips and fresh ideas. There is nothing like a good homeschool conference to re-invigorate, stimulate, and motivate! Nevertheless, I came away feeling somewhat saddened and disappointed.

When I first started homeschooling a short six years ago, homeschool conventions were about homeschoolers helping and educating each other based on their experiences and knowledge. Most conference sessions were presented by homeschool parents or graduates who shared advice, encouragement, techniques, ideas, methods, and approaches. I loved these seminars! Not only did I learn much that I could use, I also received much needed affirmation: Yes! I can do this, too! The presenters were parents, just like me. If they can successfully homeschool their children, so can I.

Over the years, however, I've noticed a change: more sessions and seminars are presented by professional vendors who briefly present some aspect of learning theory and immediately launch into an infomercial on their product. Too often, these presenters are not homeschool parents who have created a business based on their experience and expertise, but corporations who have identified homeschoolers as a potentially lucrative market. While the increased availability of resources and materials is wonderful (I love visiting the vendor booths in the exhibit hall), I sorely miss the more personal, less commercial learning from and with my peers. At the last convention I attended, I felt more like a mark than a friend or colleague.

Further, I am bothered by what seems to be the cynical and manipulative use of scripture and prayer by commercial vendors in their presentations. Even though I am Jewish, I don't mind when homeschoolers include Bible verse or prayer in their presentations. It is a  natural outgrowth of the presenters' faith, family life, and home practice. It is genuine and real. I am perfectly fine with Christian companies like Sonlight and Apologia making an affirmation of faith.  However, when companies that lack a Christian mission include scripture, it feels perfunctory, tangential, and forced. My impression is that Bible quotes and prayer are included because vendors believe this will help sell their product to homeschoolers--most of whom are Christian. I would much rather these vendors focus on the value of their product than mislead us with false statements of faith.

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