At the 2015 Cincinnati Great Homeschool Convention, I made this public announcement:
"As of this weekend, aside from special circumstances, I am going to retire from speaking!" After twenty-six years (27 convention seasons) as a speaker, it is time for an ending and a new beginning. So, today's blog is an introspective trip down memory lane, as well as my perspective on some of the changes in homeschooling since the 1980s.
First, the stats.
Beginning with the 1989 WHO convention in Tacoma, Washington, I have spoken at more than 300 homeschool conventions throughout the U.S., Canada, N.Z., Australia, Korea, Thailand, Hungary, and Scotland. Added to that are more than 150 homeschool meetings, ranging from "fireside chats" to day-long seminars to week-long family camps in such diverse places as London, England; Rotorua, New Zealand; and Hilo, Hawaii. I have spoken in every state except Rhode Island, Vermont, and Kentucky. One year, I experienced the climactic extremes of speaking in Alaska in February (-15º F) and Hawaii in March (75º F)! And, we've seen a huge range of audiences. With our three children, I performed a musical concert for an audience of 2,000 in Orlando, Florida, and, shortly after, gave presentations to as few as four homeschooling families in small towns in New Zealand. We estimate that, in all, I have spoken to several hundred thousand people across four continents in nearly three decades.
After 1989, our three children traveled with us until they either graduated or were close to graduation—including to Canada and New Zealand. (They missed all of the other experiences, and we missed having them with us!!) From 1993 until 1999, part of our repetoire was to present a family concert—Yankee Doodle Tells A Tale—an entertaining look at American history through folk music. From Portland, Maine, to Portland, Oregon, we performed over 100 concerts in mid-1800s costume to the enthusiastic response of homeschooling audiences. After 1999, we began singing other styles of music together on convention platforms, including an a cappella rendition of "Java Jive." My indefatigable husband and best friend, Bill, has worked for the past twenty-six years, both behind the scenes and alongside me, at each of these conventions—apart from one in Tampa and one in Atlanta.
As I close my eyes and reminisce, the image pops to mind of my family belting out sea chanteys as we set up and tore down our booth at conventions. "Away Rio" was our favorite for this task, and usually had other vendors smiling and nodding in time to the rhythm. It made the work easier, faster, and it was incredibly fun! Honestly, setting up and tearing down has never been the same since we broke up the band. . . Also, having my kids show up again and again at my workshops was delightful, but surprising. When I would ask them why they had come (since they had heard it all before many times), they would say, "Yeah, Mom, but it's so FUN to hear you speak!!" I treasure those comments more than words can express.
The most incredible experience I ever had as a speaker was in Auckland, New Zealand, in 2009. There was something magical that day between the audience and me, as they laughed uproariously at my jokes and shed tears as I shared my heart. I knew that they had given me a remarkable gift as they openly and instantly responded to every nuance of parenting and homeschooling that I shared.
And, then there was the first national homeschool conference in Scotland in 2005. Since my ancestoral roots are Scottish, I asked them to consider me their long-lost, strangely-accented cousin. . .and they did! With vendors from four nations, the organizers were thrilled with the audience turnout—and so was I. It was incredibly honoring and humbling at the same time to be the speaker to thirty-five eager and attentive homeschooling parents. And, though the number may sound small, it represented something massive in that nation.
Perhaps my favorite convention in the U.S. was in Orlando, Florida, in 2000, when we spent an evening with Rosemary von Trapp, eldest daughter of Captain and Maria von Trapp (you can read about it here). It was another one of those never-to-be-repeated, magical evenings that live on in my memory.
Changes I've seen:
In 1989, when I began speaking to homeschoolers, the national movement was less than ten years old. Increasingly, though, we were seeing divisions taking place, as people vocally took sides over whether to have "Christian" support groups or "inclusive" support groups. Traditional textbook companies, who had only recently begun to sell to homeschoolers, vied with entirely different kinds of approaches, primarily "unit study" and "unschooling"—and each group had vocal supporters and critics.
In the mid-1990s, some in the homeschool movement were bringing other "outside-the-norm" concepts to homeschooling, including homemade bread, home births, living off the land, owning your own business, and courtship. You may not remember this, but the BIG news among homeschoolers at the end of the 90s was the fear-based scenario of Y2K. It became a joke on January 1, 2000, when the world as we know it did NOT end—and many were left with odd "survival" foods, like gallon jars of dried celery!
When it came to moms (and dads) actually teaching their children at home, the early homeschool methods—traditional, unit study and unschooling—now added the much older Charlotte Mason approach (from 19th century England), and then, in a race to the past, classical education (drawing from the ancient Greeks, with a nod to medieval Europe). Online academies and even public charter schools made their way into the homeschool market. For those who wanted a bit of this and that, the term "eclectic" was coined. A veritable smorgasbord of educational choices, with an increasing flood of curriculums and materials, was now available to families. But this did not actually make things easier.
In the past decade, the homeschool message has seldom included the idea that teaching your kids at home brings FREEDOM to enjoy learning, to explore areas of interest, to learn at a comfortable pace, to have free time in which to create or practice or try something new. Instead, we are often told that, in order to succeed, students need to accomplish more, work harder, do it faster, study more subjects than ever before. No wonder so many are finding this overwhelming! And, no wonder homeschool moms are struggling more and more with guilt, fear and failure.
And, yet. Week after week, we have heard first-hand stories of families loving homeschool, of students enjoying learning, of amazing creativity taking place. So, this kind of homeschooling is still alive and well. My hope is that it will grow and prosper!
Growing flowers and herbs and vegetables, for starters. I want to play in the dirt with my seeds, and then watch beauty bloom right before my very eyes. (Traveling during spring and early summer each year has definitely had a dampening effect on my gardening aspirations. . .) And, while we're ambling in the garden, I want to watch the birds playing in our backyard. So far, we've counted twenty-six species. . .but I am hoping for more!
I am not completely retired, however. Though I have finished on the speaking circuit, I am still a writer. Gardening and bird-watching are just hobbies to delight in after writing each day.
So, what will work look like, since conventions are now a thing of my past? Along with continuing to blog about how to enjoy homeschooling, writing for The Old Schoolhouse and Home Educating Family magazines, and doing an occasional online workshop this summer, I am looking forward to teaching a nine-month online history course for high school students with Red Wagon Tutorials (the class is Napoleon to MacArthur), and, finally, writing an adventure book I've been waiting TWENTY YEARS to write. It is one of the most incredible stories I've ever heard, it's verifiably true, and I've got all of the original sources for it. Can't wait!!!
How it ends:
We are planning, with the help of a dear friend, to have a retirement party this September, and, possibly, an online party as well. In the meantime, if you have stories, anecdotes, thoughts, or blessings to share with us as we walk into this entirely new season of life, feel free to post comments here, to share with us on Facebook, or write us at:
P O Box 1261
Anderson, IN 46015