“I feel like someone’s installed a sun roof in my brain,” I told my wife at one point this weekend. Not bad for someone who spent all but a couple of 92 straight hours inside a Dallas-area hotel.

At the beginning of the summer, I wrote of how I was casting about for a conference to attend in lieu of the local or national SCBWI gatherings. Without setting out to do so, I found just what I needed in an unexpected place — an event that had hardly a thing (overtly) to do with children’s writing, publishing or literature. Even better, I didn’t have to leave the rest of Team Barton behind in order to get it.

From Thursday afternoon through yesterday morning, our entire family soaked up fun, friendship and enlightenment at the Rethinking Education conference:

At the heart of Rethinking Education is the awareness that children are supremely capable of absorbing and using knowledge from our complex world.

There is no need for arbitrary structure in education; the use of coercion, rewards or other behavior modification techniques as motivation are counterproductive.

With freedom, respect and nurturing support, children have a powerful drive to self-direct their own learning; the result being children who direct their own education… indeed, their own futures.

I really wasn’t sure what to expect from Rethinking Education. This was the conference’s 10th year, but it was the first time we attended, and we did so out of a sense that it could provide us with some new strategies for making this not-sending-the-kids-to-school thing work as well as possible. It did that, and how, but I can’t imagine any adult coming away from Rethinking Education without also considering how its lessons apply to their careers and the rest of their lives.

The various speakers name-checked folks ranging from Mike Milken to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, likely sending me off on research tangents for quite some time to come. Most of the sessions I attended were led by Naomi Aldort (“Boredom is a wonderful, enriching experience”) and David Albert (“Ignorance is the great tool of the homeschooling parent”), both of whom I urge all parents to learn more about.

The single most valuable idea I took away from the conference was the importance of recognizing our unquestioned assumptions about, well, everything. Whether it’s how we think our families should operate or what elements we believe a children’s book manuscript should have, why do we do things the “right,” “proper,” accepted, traditional way? Which of our beliefs shouldn’t we examine? Which ones are so ingrained that we don’t even think of them as beliefs, but simply as the way things are and ought to be? How can we be sure that there’s not a better way?

So, were there any overt connections to writing for children? You bet. Even while I was taking notes during the sessions, new story ideas kept bubbling up. One of the conference’s cofounders, Sarah Clark Jordan, was on hand to discuss her delightful children’s novel, The BossQueen, Little BigBark, and The Sentinel Pup, and of course I couldn’t resist the opportunity — even on my vacation — to talk a little shop with her.

And a few of you will be pleased to know that the 400-mile round trip provided the ideal opportunity to finally give Harry Potter a try. The Sorcerer’s Stone CDs proved a big hit for three out of four of us (2 1/2-year-old F loudly insisted that we listen to “yock ‘n’ yoll,” which meant the occasional track from American Idiot, with a heavy thumb on the mute button). I was particularly struck by how familiar many of the names and characters were, despite my never having read or listened to the books before. The moment I heard the description of a not-yet-identified Hogwarts professor’s glare making Harry’s scar burn, I thought: “Snape.”

I’ve got the whole day off today, and four CDs still to go. I’d been planning to work on my current manuscript this afternoon, but I may need to rethink that.