Tuesday, May 09, 2006

When Worlds Collide

I've always been interested in the variety of subcultures that make up our society. When my older daughter took up Irish step dancing back during the Riverdance mania, we discovered a whole world of Irish music and dance, and cultural organizations we had no idea existed.

Homeschooling is certainly such a subculture. More than once I've had the odd conversation with an acquaintance who says that they've never met any homeschoolers, and they've been surprised to learn that not only were my family homeschoolers, but a couple of other families we knew in common were, too. It's easy enough to float along through our daily routines without noticing all the varied subcultures impinging on our lives.

For the past six or seven years, two subcultures have held most of my attention. One, of course, is homeschooling, though since my daughters reached their teens, I've been less involved with its movement and social aspects.

My other subculture has been competitive fencing. I'm not a fencer myself, but both daughters have been saber fencers, and the younger is currently nationally ranked and soon off to college on an athletic scholarship. Because of their involvement—and my own inability to tolerate watching them compete (the suspense is literally stomach-churning), I ended up volunteering to help out at tournaments. These days, as part of US Fencing's national tournament staff, I often even go to tournaments my daughter isn't fencing in.

My two subcultures differ in one significant way: Homeschooling is essentially a young group, composed of kids and their parents. Sure, there are parents in their 30s and 40s, and even into their 50s, and the occasional grandparent who is homeschooling grandchildren, but you don't regularly meet that many older or elderly people in the homeschooling community.

Fencing is entirely different. At US Fencing's Summer National Championships, you'll see fencers under ten who are barely taller than their weapons, and it's not unusual to hear a medalist in one of the veteran events announced as having been a fencer for 60 or 70 years or more. For an individual sport, fencing is an incredibly social undertaking, and it's that rare sport which keeps its adherents to (very) old age.

There's an explicit imperative for older fencers to pass on their knowledge and skill to younger ones, and you see it at every level. My girls learned not only from their coaches, but from other fencers ranging from a year or two older through middle-aged adults and on up to the oldest veterans.

And it's not just the competitors. When my daughter earned her referee license, at first she was paired with experienced referees at national tournaments. Even after the more or less official mentoring was done, most of them have continued to offer her advice and encouragement, and take an interest in her progress.

And then there are the stories. Lots and lots of stories. It may be that fencers like to talk about fencing even more than homeschoolers like to talk about homeschooling. Some of my favorite times at national tournaments have just been sitting at lunch, listening to a dozen referees (fencers all, at least once upon a time, and many still) try to top each other's tales.

Of course, it's not all kindness and caring. There are tantrums and tirades (as often, though, from coaches and officials—and parents—as from fencers), general crankiness, and sometimes, just plain rudeness.

But it's always fascinating.

Strangely, though, my (mostly) separate worlds are running into each other more. There have always been a few homeschooling fencers—some of us have known of each other for years, though it's never mattered much in that context—and there are certainly more homeschooling fencers than there used to be, just as there are more homeschoolers everywhere.

But suddenly there seems to be a minor flurry of people in the fencing world recognizing me as a homeschooling writer. It's a bit disconcerting when what my older daughter mockingly calls my Famous Homeschool Author persona (FHAp) drifts into my fencing world. That FHAp talks far too much and too assuredly (that is essentially her job, after all) to fit into the barely managed chaos of fencing tournaments. I think I'm happier when she wanders back to the subculture she belongs in.

No comments: