Monday, January 25, 2010

My Issue with Christian Homeschool Conferences and Magazines

Today I received an email notice for an upcoming Christian homeschool conference. I'll not be attending that conference, I did once and I was disappointed. I have attended other Christian homeschooling conferences with mixed opinions. I have the same problem with Christian homeschool magazines.

My issue is that the topics are so centered around general Christian living that often has nothing to do with homeschooling. One conference I attended was marketed to homeschooling Christian mothers and was run by a Christian homeschool curriculum company but 100% of the conference was about living the Christian life. Actually if I broke down that part, most of it was about being a Christian in general and some about being a Christian woman but nothing at all was about homeschooling or education or even about the curriculum the company the company sells.

At one conference there was a choice between attending three sessions per time slot. Some were homeschooling but they were not applicable to my family: homeschooling a child with ADHD and homeschooling children of very young ages (but not offering balance about homeschooling an upper elementary grade or older child). Sometimes every lecture in the time slot was about general Christian living such as how to know what God has in store for your future and your own life's path? This centered on a man speaking of his career choices in the employment world. This did not even focus on a woman's path, the woman/wife homeschooling the kids, the woman may have left a career to homeschool her kids or what the woman's life path was when homeschooling the children was finished.

In some sessions at conferences the titles sound great but there is little description. Sometimes when attending the lecture the content is weak or is completely different than the stated title. In a session about how to choose curriculum for your child the advice that was repeated over and over was "just pray on it and God will lead you". I wanted to hear something maybe about learning styles or matching how the child learns best with different specific company's curriculum or some study methods that the mother could teach the child to help them remember what they've learned.

In my experience, the most knowledgeable and helpful speakers at Christian homeschool conferences tend to be the vendors. They speak of their field in detail but of course this is done with a bias toward pushing their product or service. They feel there is one right way to do a thing and sometimes that includes the homeschool family buying their product in order to access the information.

One session I attended advertised to tell about teaching kids literary analysis. The speaker said right in the lecture that he wouldn't tell much or else he'd be giving away the content in his product that he sells for almost $100. I honestly didn't know if his book or method was worthwhile, so I hesitated to pay $100 sight unseen. In any event it focused on high school and I didn't yet need that content. He sells this mostly at Christian homeschool conferences. Later I spoke to a homeschool mom friend who also values teaching literary analysis to her homeschool high schooler about this issue and she said that the same content to teach the homeschool parent how to teach that is available in books sold in trade paperback to the general public for under $25. Now who is helping the homeschool parent and who is preying on the Christian homeschool parent?

While I understand the need to make a profit to support a family I resent being overcharged for a product by a Christian man when I can buy the same thing for a fraction of the price at a regular bookstore. Let's remember that my family is making financial sacrifices in order for me to homeschool my kids. I have to watch the bottom line. I don't mind paying for a unique product but to package up something that already exists elsewhere and charge four times the price and to market it to homeschoolers would be deemed bad if a secular company did this so is it not also a problem when a Christian homeschool father does it?

In New England we do not have gigantic homeschool conventions such as I hear happen in other parts of the country. My best chances for great lectures is at a large Christian homeschool conference. The large venue means that about ten lectures are held at once. Of these offerings some I avoid as they fall into one of the above categories. I want lectures about education, home education, teaching methods, and teaching strategies and materials. I choose my sessions wisely. I tolerate some bias and some product pushing to get to some of the best advice and information.

If I want general information about Christian living I can get that at my local church and within the community at my church. There are many books on the market about general Christian living. Umpteen free articles on the Internet and on blogs are about living the life of a Christ follower. I don't understand why so much content at a Christian homeschool conference is about general Christian living. I just don't get it.

A Christian man who works with computers might attend a computer convention to learn about the latest developments in his field and no one would take issue with that. As a homeschooling mother who is not hold a college degree in education, I need to learn the basics about teaching and education and home education, as well as keep my eye on the latest products and services that are available to me on the market. I use these conferences as a training ground for how to home educate my children. Just like computers, the homeschooling field seems to be widening and each year more and more educational products and services are available to us for purchase. Making the best decisions can be tricky with so many options. Why can’t a Christian homeschooling conference be mainly about homeschooling from a Christian perspective and maybe, if necessary, a small fraction be about Christian living in general?

If someone can explain this to me I’d love to hear it.

Meanwhile this spring I’ll be avoiding one Christian homeschool conference and I’ll be attending one other. I’ll have to drive farther, spend more money and pay for a hotel room to access the better information and access to more vendors, that’s all.


Nick the Poodle said...

You know I never thought about it. I really like Classical Conversations. They are the best "education wheel" that I have found other than Well Trained Mind.

I takes a lot of time to master some of those materials. Those who put in the time want to be paid for it. I would also suggest a Tapestry of Grace.

I hope I answered some or part of your question or at least gave you something to think about. :D

God Bless!


christinemm said...

Hi Pam,
Thanks for your comment. My friend does Classial Conversations. For those who don't know its a service she pays for and the kids go to classes once a week (half a day) for classes taught by trained teachers in the method. Then there is homework to do in between to prep for the next week.

I have no interest in doing Classical Conversations with my kids. IMO there is too much emphasis on memorization and jamming facts memorized unconnected to further study, deeper study of the content. In other words, if the home portion is light all they do is memorize.

My friend's CC uses Institutes for Excellence in Writing for writing composition, the same HS curriculum I use for my kids here at home. So for example one reason I go to HS conferences was to learn about that method and the reasoning behind it and how to use it MYSELF AT HOME.

So as the homeschool teacher I need to be educated in some way about educational theory, method, and curriculums available if I choose to not use a paid class thing like Classical Conversations.

Secular homeschool conferences, if you can find them, usually are chock full of facts and information of the type I'm looking for. My point was that there is too much Christian living general info in a Christian homeschool conference.

christinethecurious said...

Did you see the comments at the Well Trained Mind website about this entry

about hosting Academic Homeschool Conventions because? Who Knew Susan Wise Bauer was a fan of HEM?

Susan Wise Bauer is setting up a section of the forum for connecting with potential teachers.

It doesn't fix the problem of where to go to get info, but it does reinforce your observations.

It doesn't fix the problem that is, unless you can pull off an organizational set up yourself - if you do, I want to come!

-Christine in Massachusetts

PS Practical Homeschooling Magazine is opinionated, but it does cover lots of college prep and teaching details.

christinemm said...

Hi Christine,
Before I go read TWTM site posts I'll share this.

I have pulled off a conference before albeit not a HS conference. It is a ton of work and needs a dedicated team of volunteers and a certain amount of money to run. I can't imagine doing it now.

The other challenge is I'm not Christian enough to want to deal with organizing or even helping a Christian HS org run their conference. Way too much controversy for me. I can't handle it. I am referring for example of the story of John Holtzmann of Sonlight and the Colorado Christian homeschool conference issue.

I have been involved as a conference speaker for homeschool inclusive groups. One challenge with making a slate of speakers for an INCLUSIVE conference is there can be a lot of bias and power in the hands of the organizers. IMO there should be balance. Then the issue of methods, styles, ages, etc.---it is hard. For example it can be easy to tip it to be more of an unschooling conference even though it is labeled as an 'all inclusive' conference. Or it can lean too much to the younger kid set.

There are challenges with getting a venue, insurance, and then begging speakers to talk for free.

Too much stress for me...and I didn't even get into managing the vendors...and the speakers that want to be paid to speak...two famous people in the 'parenting world' fetch $10K for a few speeches at a parenting conference, for travel expenses...

noef said...

If you ever visit California, I highly recommend attending the Valley Home Educators annual conference. I think it is the best blend of Chistian speakers and a fabulous exhibit hall. I didn't feel 'preached' to about living the Christian life, although some issues do come up. The website is The info on the 2010 conference is not yet up, but I'm sure it will be a great one.

Dana said...

My problem with them isn't even the living the Christian life part, but how much they have to do with a very specific way of life. I'm too Christian to feel particularly comfortable or welcome at wholly secular events, but not "hardline" enough to feel comfortable with the Christian conferences.

Alida said...

How funny. I happened upon your blog looking for srtist trading cards. Turns out I homeschool too. I am Christian, but that's not why I chose to homeschool. I feel strange in some of the homeschool groups in town because that seems to be their sole focus. More on my personal religious views some other time. I wondered if you have checked in Waldorf Education. I love their curriculum. I am not a Waldorf purist by any means. We watch sometime allow t.v. and (gasp) my kids have some plastic toys. I have found that incorporating some of their basic into my day works really well for us. There is a yahoo group out of Portland, OR., that has free resources and files. Good luck. I'm glad I found you:)

Dawn said...

I know what you mean in this post. Our local homeschool fair, although co-sponsored by a supposedly inclusive group has become full of Christian speakers who seem to talk more about lifestyle then homeschooling.

I see lots of problems if you're not Christian but I think those are obvious. For the those of us that are Christian the problems are a little less obvious but still very troubling.

1) We're being sold a line on Christianity that very often is only representative of a a certain, narrow kind of Christianity. I can't imagine many liberal Christians, Orhodox, Catholics or many others feeling comfortable with a lot of what's being "preached" at homeschool conferences.

2) It seems to be part an effort to insulate certain Christian homeschoolers from anything secular. Stamp the Christian "brand" on everything sellable as curriculum (I've seen Christian math programs. Huh?) then hustle people into homeschooling conferences and wrap them in Christian lifestyle and worldview messages. Then send them out to buy more Christian-branded products.

I just avoid the conference now.

Crimson Wife said...

I've never gone to the local Christian HS conference because I am uncomfortable with the way the sponsoring organization has worded its Statement of Faith to specifically exclude my denomination. They claim it's a "non-denominational" organization, but their SOF is not truly non-denominational. I'm not willing to sign a SOF that I don't fully accept. I agree with everything except for a single word, but because that word is included, I can't in good conscience sign.

It's too bad, because I've heard their conference is excellent, and it appears to offer plenty of academically focused sessions.

christinemm said...

Stumbled upon this while on blog got a mention by Home Education Magazine:

Title: Stepping into the deep end of the pool

"Given the number of self-described Christians looking for “homeschool information” who query HEM about our “religious slant,” this post from The Thinking Mother blog highlights an issue for more families than one might initially think."

(quotes me as saying:)
Today I received an email notice for an upcoming Christian homeschool conference. I’ll not be attending that conference, I did once and I was disappointed. I have attended other Christian homeschooling conferences with mixed opinions. I have the same problem with Christian homeschool magazines.

My issue is that the topics are so centered around general Christian living that often has nothing to do with homeschooling.

Why can’t a Christian homeschooling conference be mainly about homeschooling from a Christian perspective and maybe, if necessary, a small fraction be about Christian living in general?

If someone can explain this to me I’d love to hear it.

then says...

"It will be interesting to see where this discussion goes."

posted by Mark.

So hey readers keep chiming in with your two cents, people are waiting to see how this develops.

Shez said...

Fascinating blog post as always Christine. I wonder how much of it is purely a Christian conference issue and how much is an issue of size of conference.

Here in VA we have an inclusive and a Christian conference each year.

The inclusive one is tiny and since most of the organizers are unschoolers there is a huge bias towards unschooling speakers (Linda Dobson is the keynote speaker this year. It's the second time in 5 years. I'm sorry, but I can think of so many more interesting and useful speakers than Dobson. One year it was Armstrong and his multiple intelligences - all of which has been debunked by science)

While, as a secular humanistic Jew, I desperately want to support the inclusive conference, I find it too much of a waste of time. The curriculum fair is always too tiny and the choice of topics for the sessions too limited. I don't think I've seen one session that gets into meaty topics about education.

I'm left with attending the giant Christian conference each year. Sure there are many sessions about Christian living, but generally I get to listen to really good speakers and come away with knowledge I didn't have before I arrived.

For me, the best part is the curriculum fair. I go just for the fair. This is my only chance to hold different curricula in my hand and compare them.

RobinMom12 said...

I'm a homeschooling mom of 12 from Ohio. I didn't realize that there were poor homeschooling conventions. The last one I went to in Columbus Ohio helped me tremendously with my kids slow reading problems. I attended several conferences that directly applied. In one conference on vision issues, the leader described how my kids react when reading so exactly that it was all I could do to keep from crying. Come visit a convention in Ohio.
Press on! God bless you.

ChristineMM said...

You heard it here first. First the attendees notice, then the conference speakers.

I published this blog post in January 2010.

Here is a May 2012 blog post by Susan Wise Bauer about the extreme requirements of homeschool conference organizers led to her taking a year off, for the year 2013.