By Margaret McGee Crotty

The Northern California Catholic Family Home School Conference held in Sacramento July 26 and 27 proved to be a revelation to me. Why?

Not only because it seemed to respond to every homeschooling family’s needs, but because I remember a day in the early 1990s when three members of the Kolbe Academy board failed to convince a fourth member that homeschooling not only was not financially feasible, but that it had no following in this country.

Fast forward to this phenomenon – I was standing amidst a bounty of resources, more than 20 vendors, 230 attendees, and speakers from across the country and across the disciplines. A conference sponsored by Kolbe Academy! The chosen theme, “Engaging the culture in the Year of Faith,” was evident everywhere.

The conference opened with Everett Buyarski, manager of academic advising for Kolbe Academy, who set the spiritual challenge for all involved in this great work, quoting Pope Benedict XVI’s call to engage the culture.

Robert Spencer, a former Kolbe Academy teacher who put the homeschool on the map during his tenure, quoted Scripture which says, “Woe to those who call good evil and evil good.” He sees that as the spirit of the age, whereas classical education is the remedy to the problems of the modern world. Traveling to former ages can give students tremendous perspective.

Marita Vargas also dealt with the value of the student’s being able to speak and write and presented some practicalities on how to implement these skills in the Spencer, who, with his wife Leslie, is currently homeschooling their seven children, encouraged the dads who attended to offer every support to the endeavor in the home, taking an honest interest in what their students are studying.

He emphasized that both the mom and the students need a break from one another, and the dad can provide that. The dad can also fill in with his own expertise and offer life skills that will prove to be essential for their balanced adulthood.

Other speakers addressed the needs of varying ages. Janette Vincent specializes in children, ages 3-12, and stressed that proper catechesis at that age can result in deep, life-long relationships with God and His Church.

Martin Cothran made a strong case for emphasis on classical literature and in a later talk on rhetoric and logic. As Regina White, a homeschool mom of their seven children stated, “Mr. Cothran reminded me how important the skills of logical thinking are in every walk of life.”

Abigail Palmer tackled the difficulties with keeping the teenagers (13 – 15) interested while they are facing the challenges of meeting their developmental needs. Later, Mrs. Palmer took away some of the fear parents face in teaching  Greek and Roman humanities without having the educational background.

Another roadblock for some homeschooling parents is the subject of teaching math. According to speaker David Chandler, “Math is not a set of rules, but rather an outlook on the world.” A presenter who proved very popular with the families, especially the children, was Wil Frey, another homeschooling dad. Although a convert, he shared his devotion to the Real Presence using his ministry.

Homeschool mom Molly Francisco, said that her pre-school children were delighted with the music as well as with the fact that the conference was so “child friendly.” (There was a craft table provided for school-aged children.)

From the classical to the practical, a 35-minute docudrama released by expressed the threats posed by governmental regulations against some homeschoolers and the advice on how to handle such situations.

The spiritual was decidedly an important aspect of the conference with Wil Frey leading the chanted Divine Mercy one day, Father Carlos Farfan, leading the rosary another day, and Father Carlos Farfan, Father Matthew McNeely, and Father Hugues Beaugrand,  hearing confessions. Father Samuel Weber, conducted a talk on Beauty and Sacred Music in the Home.

Mary Rowles, director of Kolbe Academy, expressed her pleasure at the success of their first conference. She attributed it to her  staff, to Kolbe Academy’s Tove Ann Purificion, who served as coordinator, and to the fact that Sacramento seemed to be a central location for such a conference. “We had families from as far away as Nevada, Santa Rosa, Modesto, and San Jose.”