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Off Topic E-Conversations

Chit-Chatting Online

by Ann Zeise

I’ve been in many, many homeschool and other sorts of Social Networks and email lists, and when there isn’t a direct on topic question to answer, then everyone just chit chats.

Do many of you go to a homeschool group park day and ONLY talk about homeschooling? Of course not!

Often through the “off topic” chit chat about daily family life, list members build a certain amount of trust. I can’t tell you how often that trust has been an important factor in a ‘rescue’ operation of one sort or another.

Ages ago on AOL I made friends with Sue Nail who worked for CE Software, the company that makes Quickeys, a macro program for the Mac that we all like to use to automate some or our processes. Anyway, Sue and her company wound up being right in the middle of that huge Mississippi River flood that happened about a decade ago. They were uphill, so not personally hurt, but a lot of their friends and coworkers were hurting and out of their homes. Sue managed to come up with a list of badly needed items — such as bottled water and dog food, as groups like Red Cross help the humans but not the pets in these situations. Her company provided shipping space, and bunches of us managed to gather resources and get the needed items to her. It was very heart warming. Had we not gotten to know Sue very well and gotten to trust her, we might have written her off as some kind of scam artist.

I used to work for the Mercury Center when it was on AOL. We had one young member of the community who was quite deaf. He was living the life of a recluse when he first stumbled upon our group. Through chat and message boards, he found he had the “gift of gab,” and we were all dying to meet this humorous fellow. He was scared to be out in public! Finally, we all managed to encourage him to join us on a group trip to the Great America Theme Park. He found that we accepted him in spite of his deafness and speech problems. He wound up going to a culinary school that he’d been afraid to do before he learned online that he could be a “normal” person accepted by other “normal” people.

Lots of homeschool “crises” do stem from around “How can I cope with normally reoccurring household crises and still manage to meet minimal state requirements?” I think we all imagine that ALL the other homeschoolers in the world are leading lives of total family bliss, with the occasional family that seems to be having a massive crisis and hitting the news big-time. In truth, most of us fit between those extremes. Our kids may be unlikely to get into Harvard, but we have no intention of disowning them in the near future. A couple of days each month we wonder why we ever married our spouses. Our mothers still treat us like preschoolers.

My mother told me she thought I was nicely coordinated in my outfit the other day. She then told my son that I didn’t use to dress so nicely — when I was four!!! Hey, Mom, incase you didn’t notice, I’m 50 years older than that now. I’ve long learned to match clothing. Does it ever end?

So, please be patient with “off topic” messages in the homeschool email list. If you have a homeschooling concern, we’ll address that, too. Some lists use the letters “OT” in the subject heading when they are getting “off topic,” then those who don’t want to follow such conversations can delete them fast. On the web you can sort the messages by threads and then just read the ones that interest you. Some email programs will also allow for such sorting by subject header.

Having done this for years and years, I tend not to be a very heavy handed list moderator. About the only thing I won’t tolerate is “mean spiritedness” and “spamming.” Spammers usually don’t even get to make a post to the whole list. Sometimes with the jumble of topics, confusion will reign and someone will misunderstand what someone else meant. These upsets can be often solved off list with an attempt to figure out who meant what.

There are plenty of highly restrictive lists out there on the net. All posts are reviewed and many deleted. I wanted my homeschool list to be sort of a park day for homeschool parents. Bring your picnic to the keyboard, let the kids go play on the equipment, set up your camp chair and open up a soda, and just talk!

Yes, I have a “hidden agenda.” I, too, was once a newbie to the world on online homeschooling communities. Through chat and message boards I made friends and learned an awful lot. Maybe you can call our homeschool list also a “college for future homeschool leaders online and off.” This occupation: homeschool guru, has a built-in glass ceiling. It is called “your kids grow up.” If we don’t train the next leaders, what happens to the homeschool movement? A few years ago the Colfaxes basically passed along the baton. They stated that they’d no longer be speaking and writing. They were moving into retirement. Their homeschooled grown up sons were having kids of their own. I was once just another mom in their audience. I shortly became one of the first nuts advocating use of online services to support homeschooling long before most everyone out there ever thought that homeschoolers would buy modems! I fell in with Mark and Helen Hegener, publishers of Home Education Magazine, and we sort of egged each other on.

There will continue, I think, to be a great need for those capable of using online skills to encourage and support new and currently homeschooling families. It doesn’t come naturally at all on how to communicate effectively in this medium. Many aren’t “born writers.” Like our children, we need practice writing. I’ve seen many of you improve your writing skills through time on mail lists. Your grammar, spelling and typing have improved greatly and you are learning how to get your point across in a diplomatic way. Bravo!

Me, I continue to write massive posts. I never learn to be succinct. <sigh>

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