Saturday, July 19, 2008

Conventional Wisdom

What was your first experience like at a homeschool convention?

At the first convention I attended, I happened to walk into a booth just as the coordinators were asking a particular vendor to leave because their materials were considered inappropriate for the conference. I have since learned more about the vendor. Their materials contained an extensive amount of information helpful to all homeschoolers in Michigan, but they were also from a more neutral/secular worldview. There didn't appear to be anything offensive; however, there were no specific references to God or the gospel. This convention was promoted as a Christian conference. I was uncomfortable and embarrassed, not for the vendor but for the coordinator. If a Christian worldview was necessary to participate at the convention, they should have screened the of vendors before opening the doors.

Since that convention over 15 years ago, much has changed at homeschool conventions; but some things are still the same.

Dana linked to a post by homeschooler, Brian Sandifer, who just finished his first year of home education and recently attended his first homeschool convention with his wife. His immersion into the "homeschool culture" was not exactly the refreshing experience they were hoping for. Here's a few snippets from his thought provoking post;

"[R]ecently we got a major dose of the radical wing of the movement through one of the keynote addresses at the conference we attended last weekend. The speaker's name is not important, but his 45-minute message was a glimpse into the worldview of (I fear) many Christian homeschooling families...

I fear that many in the Christian homeschooling movement have a false understanding of the problem, the solution, and the ultimate goal. And smooth-talking, eloquent, yet misguided speakers that give vision and encouragement to homeschooling parents are not helping build the kingdom of God...

"Encouraging someone to consider the benefits of homeschooling their children is not "evangelism"...

Homeschooling is NOT the gospel!"

I agree with Brian's basic premise and have said as much in past posts,
Homeschooling is not the salvation of our culture. Jesus is. Homeschooling will not make a family successful. Jesus does. Homeschooling will not keep a child from rebellion. Jesus does. Homeschooling will not keep a marriage strong. Jesus does. And the minute, I think that homeschooling will do any of these things, is the day I begin the slide toward defeat. Homeschooling will not build a successful family any more than a hammer will build a successful house.
Despite the topical nature of this blog, I am also not an "homeschool evangelist." I am a Christian who homeschools as a part of our discipleship, but I'm not here to make converts to a movement or to keep the movement purely Chistian.

There are those that have that goal and actively worry that homeschooling is at a crossroads and in danger of becoming polluted with a "big tent" philosophy. This anxiety was articulated well in a note sent to Doug Phillips and recorded on his blog earlier this year.
I believe that the situation is akin to that with creation apologetics and intelligent design: the church is at a crossroads and must choose between presuppositionally Biblical science and an easier, less controversial, "big tent" approach that is content to have an unnamed designer. In like manner, the homeschool movement must decide whether it will work to advance a specifcally Biblical vision, or take a "big tent" approach that is now comfortable and uncontroversial - and lose the covenantal vision.
Asking the homeschool movement to decide whether it will advance a specifically Biblcial vision or not is like asking a hammer if it will build a house or a table. It can't decide anything nor can it lose a vision for what it is supposed to build. Homeschooling, like a hammer, is completely dependent upon the one who uses it. No one philosophy or worldview controls homeschooling. As long as the freedom to homeschool is open to all parents, it is an exercise in futility to demand that the movement have only one specific vision --secular or biblical. However, that won't stop some folks from trying.

In her post Dana asked,
"I am curious what it will be like ten or fifteen years from now. Will the tone of speakers at homeschool conferences slowly change and adapt to a changing audience? Or will an increasingly large number of homeschoolers feel alienated by the conferences which are meant to encourage them?"
Homeschooling conventions will continue to become as diverse as the homeschooling population itself. They will likely begin to have a more specific philosophy or focus as homeschooling increases in popularity and different subgroups continue to emerge.

The convention Brian attended with his wife happened to have a distinctly covenantal philosophy because that is the particular worlview that appeals to those that hosted the convention. There are conventions for Catholics and secular homeschoolers, as well as events for a particular homeschooling style.

Is that the most efficient way? Probably not, but homeschoolers are a stubborn and independent people who love doing things their way. As my first convention experiences demonstrates, some (but not all) people are not content to share their "tent" with someone who doesn't homeschool or think their way.

Brian, congratulations on finishing your first year of homeschooling and welcome to the homeschool movement. If you continue to homeschool, I hope you find a convention that encourages and inspires you. If not, then like many other homeschoolers, including those at the convention you just attended, you may just have to host a convention yourself.

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