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Washington Voices

Home-schooling conference offers networking, support

Sat., March 19, 2011

Next Friday and Saturday, hundreds of home-schooling families will gather in Spokane Valley for the 2011 Inland Northwest Homeschool Conference.

Attendees can discover new curricula in the vendor hall and participate in a variety of workshops, including special sessions just for teens. Sponsored by Spokane Valley Home Scholars, the annual event offers home-schooling families a place to network, learn and meet new friends.

“The conference helps people stay connected and involved,” said organizer Kelly Clark.

This year’s keynote speaker, Michael P. Farris, has roots in Spokane. Though living in Virginia now, Farris attended Gonzaga University School of Law and practiced in Spokane for several years. Currently, he serves as chairman of the Home School Legal Defense Association, a national organization he founded in 1983.

Twenty-eight years ago, when his wife, Vickie, began home-schooling their daughter, Farris recalled, “It was presumptively illegal according to school officials.”

That may seem difficult to believe now. “Everybody knows somebody who’s home schooling,” Clark said. But two decades ago, most states required parents who wanted to home-school to be certified teachers.

Farris became a champion of change first in his own state and later across the nation. “In Washington, we changed the rules legislatively,” he said. “In other states we had to litigate.”

In fact, Farris said the most significant change he’s seen in home schooling is that “it’s generally recognized as legal everywhere now.”

And the number of home-schooling families continues to grow. According to the National Home Education Research Institute, in 2010 there were 2.04 million home-schooled students in the United States.

Farris and his wife home-schooled all 10 of their children. “The irony is I won a student oratory competition at Whitman College – my topic was zero population growth.”

One of his topics at the upcoming conference will address the political hot button of parental rights. Farris said, “The biggest issue we’re working on now is the use of international law regarding parental rights and the shifting of American jurisprudence.”

He is referring to the push for the United States to ratify the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, which he believes will significantly undermine parental rights. “Home-schoolers aren’t the only ones paying attention to parental rights,” he said. He added that he has increasingly seen parental rights eroded in areas of medical care, discipline and education.

DiAnna Brannan, a volunteer registered lobbyist with Christian Homeschool Network of Washington State, will also lead several workshops at the conference, including one about how a bill becomes law. “It’s important for parents to know how to get involved as citizen activists,” she said.

She and her husband Scott will also lead a workshop to explain the difference between independent home schooling and government-funded programs for home educators.

Amber McGuire, owner of the Homeschool Book Shop in north Spokane, will also teach several seminars. She home-schools her children ages 10, 12 and 14. “Home schooling is something we fell into,” she said. “When my oldest reached kindergarten age I thought, ‘You know, I’m not ready to let go of him. I’m really enjoying my time with him.’ ”

And while she thoroughly enjoys her role as a home educator, McGuire said she constantly evaluates how her children are progressing. She asks herself, “Are they happy? Are they healthy? Are they learning? Do they have friends?” So far the answer has been a resounding yes.

McGuire said she’s not intimidated at the thought of teaching advanced subjects. “If my child can learn it, I can learn it!”

She feels attending conferences offers much-needed support for both parents and kids.

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