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The First Homeschool Alumni National Reunion

By Sarah Pride
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #72, 2006.

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Sarah Pride


Homeschool Alumni National Reunion Group Photo

Question: What do one-hundred-plus homeschool graduates talk about when they gather together?
Answer: Granola, jeans skirts, and the meaning of life.

Question: What are the favorite leisure pastimes of these young twenty-somethings?
Answer: Debating the meaning and purpose of life, playing music, English line dancing, and shaving balloons.

At least, these would be the answers if one took the HomeschoolAlumni.org National Reunion at the end of July as representative of the overall population of homeschool graduates. The brain child of Camden and Riley Spiller, this weekend get-together demonstrated another step in the story of homeschooling - the next generation taking possession of its own vision - and PHS decided that it needed to be there to record the occasion.

Camden Spiller
Camden Spiller
In 1981, the year Camden Spiller was born, John Holt published his book Teach Your Own, which called for parents to remove their children from the public schools. In 1983, the year Riley Spiller was born, the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) opened its doors. At this time homeschooling was illegal in almost every state. The first generation of parents who decided to teach their children at home did so out of strong conviction, despite the uphill battle to win court cases or even to find curriculum. In many ways, they succeeded. Their children have been accepted to major Ivy League colleges, written books, married, or started businesses.

So, what now? Is that it? Is the struggle over?

The answer is no. Homeschooling has always been a multi-generational undertaking, and now the balance of effort is slowly beginning is transition to the second generation. These young people have been given much, and they feel the weight of responsibility that accompanies the gift. As a group, they desire to live a life of purpose.

But where to direct that purpose? Patrick Henry College represents one step along the path. Founded by Dr. Michael Farris in 2000, the college welcomes gung-ho young Christians, the great majority of whom were homeschooled, to receive a quality education and to learn how to impact the culture for Christ. It was started by the first generation in order to continue the second generation's instruction. The online community HomeschoolAlumni.org is different. Founded only last year with a format similar to MySpace, it was created by and for the second generation, in order to share community and to discuss how to live with godly purpose as young adults.

Emily and Emerson Spiller on Zach Reynolds and Ethan Demme
Emily and Emerson Spiller on Zach Reynolds and Ethan Demme
Desire for purpose infused the HSA Reunion weekend in Mount Vernon, Missouri, from July 28-30, 2006. The Spillers and a small group of others had begun planning the event only twelve weeks before. In that short time, some 120 attendees signed up. Most of the young adults - including Camden and Riley themselves - did not arrive with expectations already set. This was an experiment to see what homeschooled young adults would do when brought together. The schedule included a musical "jam session," a bonfire, four presentations, a panel discussion, and free time for Ultimate Frisbee, hiking, or whatever else people felt like doing.

As weekend attendees, hot and sticky from traveling across the country from twenty-one states, trickled in for registration on Friday afternoon, they swiftly clustered into talking groups and eyed each other covertly in much the manner of any set of people meeting each other for the first time. Everywhere one could hear the question, "And what's your nickname on the forum?" By the time for the afternoon presentation from Ethan Demme (son of the Math-U-See founder), several friendships had already been firmly established.

Ethan set the tone for the rest of the weekend with his humorous talk, "Coonskin Cap to College Grad." He described his life growing up with brothers Isaac ("He's a genius!") and Joseph ("After learning to get along with Joseph I was set for life - I could get along with anyone!"). At the end, he summed his speech up soberly with the advice to singles to find something, anything, and start working on it: "I hear people talking about purpose all the time, but meanwhile they're not doing anything. Try something. You might like it."

After that it was time for dinner. Young ladies wearing head coverings and ankle-length skirts settled down and chattered merrily with other young ladies sporting uncovered heads and modest shorts. Some young men wore button-up shirts and khakis; others wore jeans and t-shirts. Three had arrived on their motorcycles in leather pants and jackets. All shared the same bright-eyed, alert look and easy laugh.

Bluegrass band jam session
Bluegrass band jam session
Before most people had finished dinner, the musical jam session began. Two young ladies pulled out their tinwhistles and began playing Irish music; instantly, several people with cameras descended on them and started recording videos. A larger group of skilled violinists, guitarists, and recorder-players gathered, and the tinwhistlers joined them. One young woman had brought a case of thirty hymnals and several music stands. Before long, a choir had gathered as well, until almost everyone was singing or playing worship music to God.

The heavenly music continued until it became too dark to read hymnals, at which point everyone retired to the bonfire for s'mores, discussion, and more singing. People around the circle continued to suggest contemporary worship songs until voices and memories ran out around midnight.

Shaving a balloon as part of a relay race
Shaving a balloon as part of a relay race
Saturday began bright and early with breakfast at 7:00, followed by the "Alumni Olympics," a series of events that involved searching with a GPS for several items hid across the eighty-acre campground in a woodpile, in a riverbed at the bottom of a bluff, and in several other locations equally averse to flip-flops and long skirts. After this, event organizers had arranged a relay race that required participants to catch eggs, run a three-legged race, shave a balloon, do the crabwalk, imitate wheelbarrows, or pass water balloons. When not actually participating, attendees sat in the shade ignoring the relay and discussing family life and the future of homeschooling.

Guys eagerly awaiting the start of a talk
Guys eagerly awaiting the start of a talk
At 10:00, sweaty folks trooped together into the auditorium for the next presentation, a speech by Camden Spiller about the origins and reasons for existence of the community Homeschoolalumni (HSA). Since HSA's founding, numerous members had asked what sort of things they should be discussing on the forums - what purpose Camden and Riley intended to enforce for the community. In this talk Camden clarified that they wanted HSA to be a self-governing framework in which members could find their own ways of leading lives of purpose and influence, of meeting and learning from other alumni, of passing on the legacy of homeschooling, and of advancing the kingdom of Christ in all areas of life. They did not wish to limit the collective imagination to one sphere of influence, but they did want very much to inspire others to join together for many purposes under the one banner of Christ. (See the box on the next page.) Camden was also delighted to mention that, as of that very day, HSA had gained more than 1,000 members in the eleven months since its inception.

Soon it was time for lunch, followed by small interest groups for musicians, photographers, or business owners and entrepreneurs. From all accounts these provided fruitful discussion, although PHS attended the Ultimate Frisbee "interest group" during this hour and so cannot speak with personal knowledge.

Riley Spiller speaks to a silhouetted audience
Riley Spiller speaks to a silhouetted audience
The next scheduled event arrived at 2:15 - the panel discussion. Camden had created a panel with five young adults, each of whom is connected in some way with a homeschool magazine. John Notgrass, 27, works as a partner in the Notgrass Company publishing curriculum, and is a columnist for the Home School Digest. Rich Phillips, 26, had not been actually involved in the homeschool movement for some years since he graduated, although as a child he attended many homeschool conventions with his grandfather, Karl Reed, who had homeschooled Rich's mother and nine aunts and uncles. Since graduation, Rich has worked as a construction foreman with his father and brothers. Israel Wayne, 31, is married, with four little children. He works as Marketing Director for Wisdom's Gate, a Christian publishing company, and also writes for Home School Digest. Elysse Barrett, 21, has just published a book with her father, and she is running a Christian speaking ministry across the country. She also writes a column for Home School Digest. And finally I, Sarah Pride, 22, am about to return to Patrick Henry College for the final year of my double major in History and Literature. Meanwhile, I am helping my parents produce Practical Homeschooling magazine.

The panel covered a spectrum of topics that stretched as wide as its members' interests. It began with home life and upbringing, progressed through the advantages and disadvantages of home education, and wound up with a discussion of challenges the next generation of homeschoolers will face. In the process, conversation touched on the role of men in a homeschooling family, on unity among all Christians, and on how to alter specific goals from one generation to the next while still retaining the same purpose of service to Christ. Many attendees called the panel the highlight of the weekend.

After an hour of free time and instruction in English country dancing in preparation for the post-dinner dance, everyone gathered together in the auditorium once more for John Notgrass's excellent speech, entitled "Unity in Diversity." Building on elements brought up during the panel discussion, John emphasized that the second generation's greatest danger is internal conflict. The first generation was forced by severe external pressure to work together in order to achieve success in the legal and academic arenas. With that pressure no longer so visible, natural differences are beginning to assert themselves. John encouraged members of the second generation to find their common identity in Christ and to learn to love each other through word and deed. His hour-long talk flew by.

Dinnertime hummed with interesting discussion as people digested both food and ideas. After everyone finished eating, they pushed the tables to the side of the dining hall and prepared for the evening's English Country Dance. For some, preparation meant leaving quickly to play Ultimate Frisbee. For others, it meant returning to the dorms to don elaborate period garments. Again, the diversity among homeschoolers became evident. Many had never danced before in their lives and so were very excited. In contrast, one young lady was terrified because she was used to hip-hop or modern dancing. As a group, however, everyone caught on quickly to the lines and squares of this traditional dance form. Before anyone knew it, it was 11:30, and the day was over.

Sunday dawned with a crisp sunrise at 6:19 for the few brave souls awake to witness it. Over the next few hours, folks ate breakfast and packed or went for a final hike. By 9:00 the entire group had met back together for the last talk. Israel Wayne delivered the perfect speech to finish the weekend - a specific call to purpose. He contended that, while some have called the second generation the "Joshua Generation," right now it is still wandering in the symbolic "wilderness." He characterized the Promised Land as a four-part goal: (1) Godly individuals; (2) living in godly marriages and raising godly children; (3) as a holy people in covenant relationship with each other; (4) spreading the Gospel to the nations. While the first generation achieved the first two points, Israel argued that the second generation must now fight for the third and fourth items. He also especially emphasized that God designed stable, healthy families to be the central "battle" unit in this struggle.

A farewell group shot
A farewell group shot
After one more set of interest groups and a contemporary praise and worship session, it was time to leave. Bemused that the end had come so quickly, people clustered together here and there for picture-taking, signing of memory books, and last-minute silliness. It didn't feel like goodbye. Everyone knew they would see each other again - on the forums within hours, if nowhere else. Already some were tossing ideas back and forth for next year's Reunion.

Fast-forward to a week later. HomeschoolAlumni.org has been buzzing with fruitful conversation and funny anecdotes. Many topics brought up at the Reunion weekend have yet even to be touched. There are books to be written and friendships to be strengthened over the coming year.

A few members of the second generation of homeschoolers now understand a little more of their personal responsibility to take hold of their parents' vision. But all these ideas are still new and a little frightening in their as-yet-unachieved potential. Will these young people achieve great things? Were the first generation's sacrifices worthwhile? So long as Christ continues to maintain the second generation's purpose in the way evidenced by the HSA Reunion, the answer is a resounding yes! Wait, world. Just wait.


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