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Report from the conference, day 1

One year ago, I had a terribly disappointing experience. I had proposed a few workshops at the HSC Homeschooling Conference in Sacramento, and the one they accepted was a writing workshop for teens. This was going way back into my past as a college English teacher, and I was looking forward to it. I frankly never meant to teach young children — if you’d asked me about that back when I was a college teacher, I would have said that I didn’t want to take the chance of screwing up young children’s lives by being so responsible for them! Ah, how things change.

My workshop was set for the final hour on a Sunday afternoon at the conference. I went to my room and waited. And waited. And wondered. I actually didn’t know any homeschooling teens, as I was homeschooling a six-year-old and was relatively new at it. It occurred to me that perhaps I should have done a little legwork before the conference. And that perhaps the last session on a Sunday afternoon was not the right time to ask teens to come and sit in a quiet room and write.

No one came. Finally, I went for a walk around the conference center and saw one large group of teens relaxing together, their last hour together before they’d go back to wherever they came from. Many of them, I’d been told, look forward to the conference as a time to get together with their friends from around the state. It was clear that writing poetry was far from their minds.

And yet, optimistic soul I must be, I applied again this year and again I was assigned a teen poetry workshop. This time, I asked them please not to make it Sunday afternoon! And I did a little advance PR, e-mailing the state e-mail list and asking parents of teens who like to write to let them know about my workshop.

This time they came, five teen girls who like to write and were willing to let me guide them through an experiment in finding thoughts and inspirations. One of the first things I did was to read them a piece of dreadful drivel that I’d written in iambic pentameter, the meter much classic English poetry (including Shakespeare’s) was written in. I write really awful iambic pentameter, and I know it. And I remember being a teen and wanting to do things well, and that confusion of what I should do when something was, in fact, dreadful. Quit? Cry? Get angry?

Now I know I should have just laughed and wondered if there was anything I could get from it. So that’s what we did. We wrote in a variety of forms: first I had them walk in Shakespeare’s shoes and try iambic pentameter. Not surprisingly, they hated it as much as I do. They discovered what I figured they would: that the tradition of American song with its four beats per line made it very hard to get in that last fifth beat. It feels unnatural to us.

Then we did a shape poem: we all wrote in circles and looked for inspiration there. Then we wrote on graph paper, one letter per box. And then I set them free.

And it was fun. They took my lead and didn’t try to get too much deep meaning from it. We wrote and giggled and talked a bit about the shape of the English language and why sad poetry is so much easier to write than happy poetry. And since we are homeschoolers, I didn’t have to correct their spelling and grammar — Mom can take care of that!

My only regret is that I misread the schedule and let them out 15 minutes earlier than we all wanted to go. We were all disappointed; it was an hour and a quarter very well spent, and I thank them for that time.


After that, I was free to be the student, and I went to hear Diane Flynn Keith speak. She’s sort of a homeschooling guru who started a simple idea of “Carschooling” — things you can do while driving in the car that are educational. Homeschoolers often spend lots of time in the car, running around to catch that next bit of inspiration that the world is offering. And by the way, this would be a good website for any family that wants to make the most of their car time — not just homeschoolers!

Keith gave an interesting talk on homeschooling teenagers. Since I am setting out to homeschool an almost-teen, I thought perhaps she could offer some insight and inspiration.

She did! I had  a momentary fear that she would be one of those homeschooling gurus who assume that all of us are completely anti-school. Personally, I am pro-knowledge, and however people get it is fine with me. But I can’t think of anything better than having four years of young adulthood to study and argue and live the life of the mind. So my hope for my kids is clearly that I’d like them to go to college… if it’s what they want.

She did a good job of balancing on that line between rejecting the idea that we have to do everything that we are told, and rejecting everything just as a reflex. Homeschoolers, like schoolers, can sometimes find themselves rejecting the idea that our way is not the only way. So I like to hear the acknowledgment (though it should be obvious) that each family should make the choices that work for them.

One of the fun things about this conference is meeting people face-to-face whom I’ve only “met” online. They are more likely to recognize me, since I have this habit of pasting my face above my work. But it’s fun to place actual humans in their context. In this modern world, it’s too easy to forget that there are actual fingers behind those words that appear on our screens.

Posted in Homeschooling.

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