Homeschooling Without God
MAR 30, 2016
The modern homeschooling movement is one of revolt. From its humble beginnings in the ’70s, led by graduates of the hippie generation who saw public schools as too constrained and religious, to its pop-cultural peak in the ’80s and ’90s under conservative Christians who wanted more God and less evolution in the classroom, homeschoolers and their parents have pushed aggressively against mainstream education.
Today, there are more than 1.7 million homeschooled kids in the U.S., roughly double the number of those at the turn of 21st century. Religious families, nearly exclusively Christians, make up more than two-thirds of them, and religious curricula and social groups dominate the community. In states where homeschoolers are required to be part of a larger “umbrella school” to meet government learning standards, those networks are frequently organized by churches.
“More and more people want to teach their particular set of values and beliefs in schools and not have the state do it,” said Brian D. Ray, the president of the Salem, Oregon-based National Home Education Research Institute, who has studied homeschooling for three decades. As the number of “atheists, agnostics and secular people grow, there are more of them homeschooling, too.”…
There are a lot of hurdles to success in homeschooling: meeting state guidelines, making sure your child gets a high school degree, helping your child compete for college admissions, and more. Non-religious families face an additional challenge: finding lesson plans, qualified teachers, and daytime social groups that aren’t overtly religious. …
When Smith decided to homeschool her son and started searching online for resources, she realized most homeschool families are Christian. Eventually, she started following secular homeschooling message boards and Facebook groups to figure out which lesson plans are atheist-friendly and which science books and instructors will teach evolution. Finding non-religious resources has been difficult at times. “You can’t even buy a planner sometimes without there being Bible verses on it,” she said.
Many atheist, agnostic, and non-religious kids and parents credit social media with helping them realize there are others like them. In nearly every place in the U.S. where there are homeschoolers, there are organized “park days” where kids get together weekly to play with other kids, go on field trips, or participate in sports. The California Homeschool Network, an extensive but incomplete compendium of resources in the state, lists 47 Christian homeschool-support and park-day groups, and seven that are secular. But across the state and country, there are dozens, perhaps hundreds, of secular homeschool Facebook groups where moms and dads post photos, hatch ideas for social gatherings, and discuss their struggles and successes with state laws.
Bias disclosure time: My wife and I homeschooled our munchkins “K-12”. While we are Evangelical Christians, our initial/primary reason was that we did not trust the academic quality of public schools. Family closeness became a second reason, as we started looking into homeschooling, and the stereotypical “religious reasons” came (chronologically) third, as we discovered how hostile to Christian ideas public schools were becoming. Stereotypes are often oversimplifications based on facts, but we didn’t know of the stereotype so we didn’t know we should fit it.
Please indulge me a bit farther … because of several key “mentor”-like experienced homeschoolers who helped us a lot, after several years and recognizing a particular need, we started a homeschooling support group. This took us in several directions, organizing the group and activities, “collecting” information resources, the group growing to ~120 families in the first 4 years, volunteering at a regional and a statewide homeschooling convention. I also, in the late 90s and early 00s was very involved in several homeschooling discussion sites, one Christian-focused, two mixed Christian, other, and secular. I apologize for being long-winded, but all this verbosity gives context to my comments that follow.
Sadly, the Christians-secular divide among homeschoolers is a long one, dating to the mid-1980s. I won’t try to assign blame, as it’s probably a very long chain of events, of which I know but a little. From my perspective and observation, secular homeschoolers, especially of a particular education philosophy dating to the 1970s and a particular pioneer, resent Christian homeschoolers. Those secular homeschoolers view Christians as newcomers who aren’t faithful to (their particular) homeschooling philosophy, and have brought into homeschooling a foreign element, “fundamentalist” Christianity. They view homeschooling Christians as not “real” homeschoolers. I’m not exaggerating, and have actually understated the conflict some by glossing over the animosity.
I understand, to some degree, the feelings tied to newcomers, who have different concerns, different manner of life, and different methods. It’s a sub-set of all kinds of inter-cultural conflict, though, obviously, not violent. What I don’t understand is animosity and rejection, from either direction (though I have seen little or no such from Christian homeschoolers toward secular or “other” homeschoolers).
10 or 30 years ago, the MSM discovered that those homeschoolers they had painted as Christian zealots actually included a significant minority from other or no religion. The ~2/3 number given by HSLDA (later in the article) is down from the ~3/4 number I heard from a Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) leader some 20 years ago. So every few years the MSM recycle that discovery - or reassure their readers that not all homeschoolers are nutjob fanatics - in an article like this one. It’s an amusing pattern to me, since I knew of secular homeschoolers pretty much from when we first started investigating homeschooling (mid 1980s).
When we first began homeschooling, resources were more scarce. Many textbook companies wanted nothing to do with homeschoolers and/or didn’t have the structure to sell to individual families or distributors. A few did, mostly Christian publishers like Bob Jones University Press and A Beka.
Similarly, there were not a lot of local homeschooling support groups back then. The article cites the statewide organization in CA, California Homeschool Network, who lists 47 support groups, Independent Study Programs, and co-ops. CHN is one of 3 statewide homeschooling organizations in CA. CHN is kind of in the middle of the secular-religious divide. On the more secular side is HomeSchool Association of California; on the Christian side is Christian Home Educators Association of California. All three are significant organization in term as of membership. Further, CA has 58 counties. and I don’t want to guess how many largish towns and cities. IOW, there’s a whole lot more support groups, ISPs, and co-ops than the 47 CHN lists.
All that said - believe it or not, I do have a point - resources for secular homeschoolers who want to avoid religious curricular materials and groups where religious concerns and ideas are prominent are not plentiful. I sympathize, to some degree, but at the same time recognize that this “problem” is to a great degree self-created and -imposed. There’s some irony in a couple of the significant information resources used in this article. It identifies HSLDA as a Christian organization (while HSLDA was founded by Christian homeschoolers, its members and cases are not Christians-only). What it doesn’t mention is that Dr. Brian Ray, founder of National Home Education Research Institute (NHERI) is also a Christian. For all the bellyaching and venom of some secular homeschoolers (they hate HSLDA and NHERI) they have been less than diligent about creating equivalent resources, despite having the sort of needs HSLDA and NHERI serve. The logic of trying to tear down groups like HSLDA, NHERI, and Christian statewide homeschooling groups - HSLDA and Christian statewide groups have had a lot of mud tossed at them - without addressing the needs those groups serve eludes me.