Have you ever read those annoying statistics about how many years the average person spends waiting in lines or watching TV throughout a lifetime? Well, when it's all said and done I have a feeling a good ten years of my life will have been spent at homeschool curriculum fairs. I've been to more than I care to think about.
When I was a kid, I used to man my father's "Christian Life Workshops" table. I politely answered parents' questions about math programs and typing books, all the while promising myself that I would never set foot in an exhibit hall as an adult.
Never say "never."
Fate has a way of playing tricks on us, doesn't it? This summer I spent a good chunk of time crisscrossing the country, speaking at homeschool conventions in five states. My travels took me to Alabama, Arizona, New York, Ohio and California.
Of course, the funniest part of it all is how much fun I had. Once you get homeschool convention "aisle cruising" in your veins you're hooked for life. There's something oddly comforting about seeing the A Beka Book table with moms and dads crowded around it. The A Beka salesmen are wearing the same white, short-sleeved shirts with black ties that they've worn for all eternity past. On the corner you see the folks at Lifetime Book and Gifts with their blue aprons scurrying around their portable book shelves as they bang on calculators.
And of course there are all the "odds and ends" booths offering bread machines, microscopes, homeschool T-shirts and creation science literature. It doesn't matter if you're in Syracuse or Phoenix, walking into a homeschool convention is like visiting McDonalds - the menu's going to be the same no matter which side of the globe you're on.
The people crowding the aisles are as diverse a crowd as one could imagine. A lady wearing a denim jumper and head covering rummages through books at the used curriculum booth next to a short-haired woman in a pants suit who looks like she just stepped out of a board meeting for a Fortune 500 company. Leave your stereotypes at the door - they're both homeschool moms. Style isn't really the issue here. The air is full of happy chatter about what does and doesn't work. The moms all spend their money like water as their husbands look on helplessly.
Last year a combined total of over 104,000 people visited homeschool conventions across the country. This year's "convention season," as the vendors refer to it, was back with at least that many attendees.
In some states the conventions draw only a few hundred people, but in more populated areas the annual conventions featuring well-known homeschool speakers and a plethora of helpful workshops drew as many as six thousand. Four of the conventions I attended had over three thousand people.
When I set out on my travels I planned to keep my eyes open for "mega-trends" in the home school community. This issue's column was going to be devoted to "What's Hot in Homeschooling."
But now I realize that any "trends" I could forecast would been lifeless, and in many ways totally incapable of helping anyone. Because no matter how big homeschooling gets, the bottom line is that homeschooling is about everyday life. I came away from my travels, not with statistics or numbers, but with memories of people, some struggling, some triumphant, but all working hard to build godly families. And that's what it's all about.
I hear a lot of talk these days about the "homeschool market" and I guess I understand the necessity of these kind of terms in a capitalistic society. But I hope we never lose sight of the faces behind the numbers and statistics. Homeschooling is about real people, living real lives, raising real kids. If we forget this we'll be incapable of maintaining the focus and perspective necessary to not only continue homeschooling, but pass its values down to the next generation.
And that's part of the reason I'll be back in the curriculum hall next year and the year after that. Because rubbing shoulders with the people behind the numbers is what reminds me why I love homeschooling and homeschoolers.
Joshua Harris, age 21, is a life-long homeschooler and the editor of New Attitude, the Christian magazine for homeschool teens. His first book, tentatively titled I Kissed Dating Goodbye, is due out April '97.
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