Sunday, February 19, 2012

Taking a Risk

I decided to take a risk and offer something to the local homeschool community. It felt like I was walking blindfolded off a cliff and I asked myself if it was a stupid idea.

I don't feel connected to the homeschool community here yet. I have not found people on my wavelength yet, or, perhaps they are not showing themselves fully to me yet for me to realize we are of like mind. I have not really had the chance to say much to the homeschool parents I meet to reveal what I think about education either so they don't know what I am all about either.

The events I attend have mostly mothers who chit chat small talk about anything and everything but never about homeschooling or education or parenting. The homeschool moms in Connecticut were so yearning to talk about homeschooling that when we got together we'd talk shop. Most if not all of us already had rich lives where we connected with others of like mind about the non-homeschooling things in our lives. We didn't need to make friends with homeschool moms to talk about favorite recipes or our exercise routines or to complain about the weather.

I am getting desperate to talk about education and homeschooling and challenges and successes and to seek advice and get a different perspective on. I have not been able to do this in Texas yet. When I'm desperate to talk about homeschooling I pick up the phone and call my old friends in Connecticut.

I had an idea and I talked to my husband and he agreed. We have put ourselves out there and are taking a risk by offering up a free class to be taught by my subject matter expert husband about the stock market to homeschool kids. They are also competing in the Stock Market Game.

I don't know any homeschool kids here, not really, so after having various negative experiences in Connecticut dealing with the offspring of strangers this was scary for me to do. However I followed my instinct and reminded myself of a core educational philosophy I hold which is that ideally adults with special expertise should be able to teach kids about the subject they are passionate about. I feel that "regular people" have gifts to share and that kids should be in touch with adults in the world (not just interacting with paid teachers and paid coaches). My husband is one such person and I feel it is a good thing that he should offer to the homeschool community. (I don't consider it a "give back" per se as so far we have not "taken" anything from this community.) So this is just an offer of generosity from our hearts.

Why should we bother, you might ask? Why should I care anything about other homeschooled kids' experiences? They are not "my problem", right?

I have a general philosophy that the homeschool community works best when we share with each other on a grassroots level. I tell you about this, you tell me about that. We are locked out of so many things by the fact that we are not in school and not allowed to do things offered through the schools so we need to know what is available to us. We also sometimes offer ourselves up to help other homeschooled children then other times other parents offer to help our kids with something. We create things and offer them, that's what is important.

I think it's vital to not just be on the lookout for what we can sign our kids up for and drop them off (free or for a fee) but that we ourselves contribute to the pool of what is available out there. Other parents must feel the same since for years homeschool co-ops have existed and thrived (they're an easy way for parents to give of themselves by teaching other people's children).

It is hard sometimes to get in touch with subject matter experts and harder yet to find ways that our kids can take classes with them or be mentored by them. I dream of my son being mentored by an engineer but in Connecticut I knew exactly two, and one was no longer working in the field (since she was a stay at home mom now). Now in Houston we're surrounded by engineers so I anticipate options for my older son to be mentored by engineers in the upcoming years. I figured surely there would be someone around here whose kids wanted to learn about the stock market. We know the schools barely teach this subject, which is a shame.

The idea came about because my eleven year old starting asking about the stock market. You would think that the sons of a father who knows all this stuff would know it all but they don't. Why? The answer is simple: they didn't care to know. I am busy homeschooling, some of which is interest-led and some of which is "you have to learn math to do what you say you want to do with your career so just do it". I didn't want to shove the finance industry down my kids’ throats also. I can only push and shove so much.

I was reminded of when my older son asked questions in grade 4 which led to my husband leading a class of kids in grades 4-10 and doing in the Stock Market Simulation competition. My older son learned a lot but he didn't want to learn more after that was over, even though he won first place (a $25 prize that we never collected as we refused to give the company his social security number due to a recent identity theft). (And by the my son made all his own stock market picks which my husband thought were bad ideas anyway, but they actually paid off!) My husband had the experience from that time that would help him plan and craft a new class for this spring.

I went online to research if there was a stock market game in this area and found one existed that was starting in about ten days.

I then spent many hours working at finding a public meeting place, dealing with the local homeschool group's rules so I could use their name and other administrative tasks. I won't get into those details although what happened was surprising and disappointing and would be the basis of a few good stories in and of themselves.

I also figured this would be a great way for both of my kids to make some friends in the homeschool community.

I offered the class up on an internet chat forum and was surprised at the low interest given that 300 families are in this support group. I had just one kid interested. One. Plus my two. At the 11th hour another kid popped up. After I closed registration, two siblings popped onto the scene. So now we are running the class with four middle schoolers and two high schoolers. (There were four other interested kids but they were busy with a paid job, a Boy Scout merit badge class, a volunteer commitment and the fourth was too young.)

So far we have had only had one class and it went well. While my husband taught (around our kitchen table) I spoke to the parents. It was great to talk about parenting, homeschooling, education, academic competitions, and extracurriculars for kids in their age group. It was so refreshing to me especially since one of the fathers spoke as if he was giving a TED lecture about alternative education and innovation in learning. Actually later I found out he has spoken at TEDx and even organized a TEDx event in our town in 2011. Why am I not surprised?

It was inspiring to hear that father talk about alternative education although the path his kids have chosen to take with the support of their parents behind them made me feel like our homeschool and family is really really boring. I mean, my kids have not made it to the Forbes list of 30 Under 30, nor have they been featured in any magazine of any kind.

I got over that about 48 hours later when I snapped back into the mindset that what I feel is most important is doing what is right and best for our own kids. My kids are not his kids so the cool path they are following is not what is right for my sons. If I wanted my kids to do those kinds of projects and I coerced them into doing it, then they'd not be following their dreams, they'd be trying to fit a cookie cutter mold that I forced them through. They would most certainly not achieve the same success as that family's kids have because the key is having an internal passion fueling their fire. Even in a homeschool if you force something down a kid's throat (even something alternative and cool sounding) it is almost no different than putting them in school and having the school's agenda forced upon them. We rejected that schooling path for a reason. We wanted something unique for our homeschool that worked for our family.

After all that introspection I arrived back at the mindset that we homeschoolers have freedom to pursue a different path than the schools offer, and perhaps a really alternative path in some cases (like a teen patenting inventions and working to help people in third world countries). It just takes courage and trust to step out onto that wire to first homeschool and then to do what's right for our family. We need the courage to do what our kids need and to also not just try to copy what our fellow homeschooler is doing, no matter how right or cool it sounds.

I am already glad that my husband and I have offered this class to the community. If this works out we can continue together for the fall competition and continue on for years, if we want. It was risky to put ourselves out there into a community which we don't really feel connected to yet, but if we can help our kids and some other family's kids learn about a topic they are curious about by sharing my husband's passion for the subject and his real life work experience, it will be worth all the effort it takes.


Julia Hones said...

Hi, I started following your blog a few days ago after I read your excellent book review of The Element on amazon. I would love to meet you in person because I share your ideas and I am a free thinker too, but I live in Wisconsin. I "homeschool" my daughter since she was born. Now she is three years old. Good luck with this project. I'd love to know the outcome.

April said...

Hi Christine,
I admit to having not read this entire post yet, but I needed to tell you that your first few paragraphs caught my attention. As a transplant to my area years ago, I was increasingly discouraged and frustrated that NO ONE in any of our circles EVER spoke of anything "serious" or "meaningful". I have found that this tendency seems CULTURAL.(I do hate to say that, but though I was raised IN the south, I was not raised AS a "southern girl".)
People WILL talk to you about other things, but you've got to put it out there; ask questions, and be ready for rabbit trails.
That's been a hard lesson for me!

I'm excited that you and your husband are doing this class, and I hope it will open doors of real friendship to you.
I'll be back after worship to read the rest of this post. :)

ChristineMM said...

Hi Julia,
Glad you liked my long book review of The Element. I got flack for that being so long from some other Amazon customer reviewers. Good to know someone appreciated it. I did worry I was maybe being too enthusiastic about the book but I loved it.

Here is my book review if anyone wanted to read it. I published it on my blog and on as a customer review.

ChristineMM said...

Hi April, Mainly in public school I was taught not to make generalizations regarding cultural elements such as "northerners" and "southerners" so I don't let myself think that way. Some people worried for me moving to Texas that I'd be surrounded by stupid people. I cringed at them saying that. As to that, it's untrue as I am around a lot of people who are educated.

I've heard a saying that I can't find an attribute for: that smart people talk about ideas, average people talk about things, and stupid people talk about other people (gossip or celebrity worship).

I do not want to believe that the homeschool parents here are average or stupid, I really don't.

Maybe I need to start my own homschool support group here with focused topics for discussion in order to get peole to talk and share ideas about those topics. I have led support groups in CT and I felt I had too much stress with the move still being in-process and I didn't want to take on too much. But maybe I need to do it for my own sanity.

ChristineMM said...

Further clarification: I am an extrovert. I need to be around people and talk to people about things that matter to me. It energizes me and makes me feel good.

If I am alone too much with only my own thoughts it is not good for me.

However being around people who cause problems really drains me, so I try to avoid doing volunteer projects with an over-abundance of jerky people. I'd rather be alone than around people who cause me stress. I try to save myself from some of that type of stress by staying away from some people that I know rub me the wrong way or by limiting risk such as not offering up a class for homeschoolers.

The problem with offering to teach other people's kids for free is you don't know if you will be prevented from a focus on the main content and purpose of the class dealing with things like behavior problems from the kids. As an unpaid volunteer, I don't want to get stress from rude kids in the class then have to deal with their parents.

Karen said...

Another freethinker here.

I enjoyed this post tremendously! It does take risk to extend yourself to a fairly unknown community. Even within our homeschool co op group I put myself out there with classes.
Many have been very well-received. Currently I am offering an English 1 class for approximate freshman level students. It keeps getting better and we've met some wonderful kids!

I'm enjoying your blog!
If you like, you can check me out at: