Saturday, January 22, 2011

School-Free Learning and Religion

One of the first things people think when they hear you don't, or didn't, go to school, is "oh, you must be religious."  And by religious, what they really mean is that we must be either fundamentalist or evangelical Christians. 

I think that the image that instantly comes to most peoples minds when they think of homeschoolers (since most people think that all school-free learners are Christian) is a very specific one: it involves girls in long skirts or dresses, boys in dress shirts, and mothers in denim jumpers.  Families with (often many) more than 2.5 children, who do their schoolwork at the kitchen table and have daily Bible study. The stereotype goes that they may also hate gay people and have a problem with the theory of evolution. 

The Duggar family from TLC's 19 Kids and Counting. (Source)

And, well, that stereotype is actually based in something.  Growing up, many of the homeschoolers I knew fit it almost exactly!  It's probably not surprising to discover my family felt pretty out-of-place at certain homeschooling gatherings.

Because my family?  Well, school-free learning definitely wasn't a choice made for religious reasons of any kind, Christian or otherwise.

My father seems pretty atheistic, but I don't think cares enough about religion either way to even bother labeling himself.  My mother is a rather spiritual person, with her own personal beliefs and a definite attitude of live and let live.  My sister once referred to herself as a "superstitious agnostic", which I loved, but she doesn't feel the label of agnostic fits any more, and hasn't replaced it with any other labels.  And me?  Well, I usually simply refer to myself as an animist, and I also throw a little goddess/earth worship into the mix.

I got a necklace much like this for Christmas. (Source)

The difference in outlook can be seen clearly in this story: I remember a homeschoolers group activity my sister and I were part of one summer.  They gave us each a small New Testament bible, and we memorized a small passage each meeting.  Actually, I think it might have specifically been a bible club thing, that my sister and I decided to go to simply because we had friends there.  But either way, I remember that Emi loved that little bible.  It had a faux-leather cover and gold writing.  Emi thought it looked like a spell book, and used it as such in her regular play.  

It might start to sound at this point like I'm not all that fond of Christianity, and that would be accurate.  To be honest, I'm not all that fond of any organized religion.  But as with everything I'm less than fond of, I try to keep things pointed squarely at the big guys: I have a problem with schools, not those who attend them.  Similarly, I don't like the institution of religion, but that doesn't mean I dislike the followers of a religion.

What I do dislike is the politics and opinions that frequently go along with fundamentalist Christianity, though.  The hatred of GLBTQ folk, the idea of "purity" and repression of sexuality, the belief that physically punishing children is okay, the overall sexism.  When I was young, I didn't notice all that stuff, despite the fact it was very evident at times.  I think kids often don't!  But once I was older, those types of attitudes definitely started making me uncomfortable.

So do I think choosing not to send kids to school for religious reasons is bad?  No, I don't.  I think it's important that children are loved, treated kindly and respectfully, and given the freedom they deserve.  The families who strive for this are the ones I personally agree with most, and I don't really think whether those choices are made with religion in mind or not matters at all.  I consider myself a very spiritual person, and I don't really separate the various part of me into different categories.  Everything I think and feel has an effect on everything else I think and feel, thus my own decision to never send my (unwilling to go) future children to school is as much a spiritual choice as anything else.

And really, it would be very nice if people started realizing that the school-free community is a vast one, and one that encompasses a wide variety of people who don't send their kids to school for a wide variety of reasons.  School free learners are Christians, Pagans, Jews, Atheists, Muslims, Hindus, and any other religion you can think of.  They're conservatives, liberals, republicans, anarchists, supporters of the green party, and libertarians.  There are a LOT of school-free people out there, and thus you find a lot of variety.  Some of them I personally agree with, some not so much.  Yes, I think I've probably come across more Christian homeschoolers than anything else, but there are enough home learners who are other than Christian that automatically assuming they are is not really a good idea!

It would also be nice if people would move away from the idea that Christian=X type of home learning, and Atheist=other X type of homeschooling.  That's slotting followers of a specific religion (or holders of a specific label) into a box, and not taking into account the complexities of each individual, why they decided not to send their children to school (or not to go to school themselves), their relationships with each other, etc.  There are radically unschooling Christians, and there are rigidly classically homeschooling Pagans.  I'd personally like the focus to stay firmly on the important things: are they happy?  Are families living together with love and respect?  Or, are they striving to live that way (since it can be pretty hard to actually achieve at times, as I well know)?  Because isn't that what's important?

Why I'm such a strong supporter of unschooling is because I believe everyone has the right to free choice, and because I believe that free choice leads to happy, connected, caring people.  Ultimately, if people are happy, I don't think it matters what type of education they're following.

So.  I've tackled religion, something I've never really written about before on this blog.  Hopefully I've done so respectfully!  And I'd be interested to hear your perspective.  Do you feel religion had any impact on your educational choices (either to have more or less religion in your environment)?  What's been your experience with the school-free community and religion?


  1. I have a friend in Georgia who is searching for a new dentist. Out of 15 dentist-office websites she looked at, only three didn't list the (Christian) church affiliation of not only the dentist but the staff members as well. I just did a quick scan through our local (Seattle area) yellow pages and didn't find a single ad that mentioned religion at all.

    I'm sure a poll of homeschoolers in her area would reveal an almost exclusive community of people who are homeschooling for religious reasons or with a religious bent. A poll in my area would reveal a more eclectic mix.

    So, yeah, it all depends on the sample you start with. People who assume their local sample is representative are inevitably going to come to erroneous conclusions about the national and international homeschooling communities.

    On a related subject, there is a guy who has made it his crusade to talk about the institutional racism of the unschooling community. Again, he is failing to consider the sample. Homeschoolers are mostly white due to the institutional racism of our overall educational system (not to mention our government). Unschoolers are a subset of that group. Therefore, unschoolers are mostly white. To say that the racism originates in the unschooling community is just bad logic.

    I hate bad logic.

  2. Yes, religion did affect our choice. The fact that I have my own spiritual beliefs and that I want my children to also be free to develop their own...

  3. Religion may often affect people's choice of homeschooling/unschooling because not many places are very tolerant of 'diversity'. I am Muslim, grew up in a very Christian country, attended Christian schools...and I still remember the experiences of bullying, disrespect on the part of teachers etc. I want to unschool my children so that they can lead their own learning but also so that they can be free in their beliefs, without being shamed and bullied because of who they are, how they look, how they behave... The atmoshpere of mutual acceptance and respect is unfortunately not part of many schools and other public institutions.

  4. I have been thinking about how to get more people to realize that there are many homeschoolers out here who are not religious. It is a stereotype, and one that we will continue to run into for a while. I chuckle thinking about the number of times church or religion is brought up by someone I am speaking with after I mention that we homeschool.

  5. Originally our faith didn't have a role in why we decided to homeschool our children. As we became more comfortable being responsible for our children's education we began to realize what a great opportunity homeschooling provides for us to be able to incorporate our faith into their education. I feel the fact that so many people are turning to homeschooling who don't have a deep rooted faith almost gives our decision to homeschool more validity (at least to those outside our home).
    I don't consider myself an unschooler but I love reading your blog ... go figure. :)

  6. Great post!! Religion had nothing to do with our decision to homeschool/unschool. The decision was based on what we thought was best for our daughter.

    We are Atheist and we are Jewish, which means that we follow the traditions that we love but don't believe in a deity. Ironically, people we have attracted into our lives are similar (but not exactly the same) to us...homeschoolers/unschoolers who live life without belief in a deity, but they are not Jewish. It makes for an interesting life!

  7. I went to public school there was no religious reasoning behind my parents choice for that, it was the only real choice that worked for them. And my want to homeschool/unschool my future children has no religious reasoning either, I mean I have my beliefs and want my children to find their own no matter what they may be but that has nothing to do with why I want to homeschool/unschool.

    I will say that I for the longest time did not feel comfortable expressing my beliefs with my own family and I don't want that for my children and I do think part of why I felt that way was because of where I went to school, and that is more of a reason behind my want to homeschool/unschool, being able to let my children be free thinkers and independent.

    *sorry found lots of typos so I just thought it would be better to delete and re-comment.

  8. As an atheist myself, religion had no role in the decision to homeschool. But living in Calgary area, which gets labeled as the Canadian Texas, I've discovered that many in this area do homeschool for religious reasons. That discovery was why I decided to put my religious view on my facebook page so I wouldn't get lumped into a category I didn't belong in among those who only sort of know me.
    I enjoyed this post!

  9. Although I was raised "Christian" I wandered from it years before I began homeschooling. My reasons for homeschooling pertain more to being "free" from control than any religious basis. Matter of fact, I think we are probably some of the oddest homeschoolers you will come across....dh is a tattoo artist and I use curse words "religiously". :-)

  10. I wasn't even thinking of religion when I decided to unschool my future progeny. In fact, when I mention my plans, people never ask me if it is for religious reasons and I am living in the Bible buckle. (Texas) I guess I should mention that my circle of love are mostly artists. :)

    P.S. I love the Duggars. It's almost like the Waltons got their own reality show.

  11. Great post, as usual - yes it is respectful while still passionately and articulately secular. Nicely done.

    So, I have tagged you for an 'award' (read virus-ey meme thing) here: because yours is one of the blogs I really enjoy coming to and reading. It would be fun if you played along as we'd get to know your top picks out of the blogs you follow, too (among other things). Cheers,

  12. I don't go to church because I don't agree with many of the ideas that are shoved down your throat at many churches now days. I do however give my entire being over to God and try to live my life in a way that glorifies Him. I do not believe that persecution of ANY group has any place in the heart of a child of God. We are all created equal and all have the right to live and exsist. The main reason we pulled our daughter from school is because we don't "play well with others", meaning I don't like being told there is only one way to do things, or that there is only one right way. We wanted our daughter to grow up knowing she has a brain and not being afraid to use that brain, and that wasn't going to happen at our local school. She also hated school with a passion and was miserable. We are all much happier since pulling her out.

  13. My family was Christian and religion did have an impact on my parents' choice to homeschool my sister and I. However, we were allowed a lot of freedom, encouraged to think for ourselves and search for truth, and always taught to respect others no matter what their beliefs. I still call myself a follower of Christ even though many of my convictions are more non-denominational. I certainly want to homeschool my own children when I have them so that they can experience the same independence from institutional control that I had!

  14. By the time we decided to not send our daughter to school, I don't think I would have acknowledged overtly that we were doing so for religious or spiritual reasons. I probably thought only Christians did so. But somewhere along the way I realized that my understanding of my faith (Unitarian Universalism) had a great deal to do with it.

    Seven principles form the backbone of Unitarian Universalism in the US. Of these, the three below directly relate to why we choose alternative learning experiences:

    * The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
    * Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
    * A free and responsible search for truth and meaning.

    Today I readily say we learn outside of the traditional school environment for religious reasons, but I'm also equally ready to assert what that looks like and why.

  15. We're Christians and we're unschoolers. It's funny because so many people associate Christianity with rigidity, but the scriptures are very clear - Christianity SHOULD be associated with freedom!

    I completely get where all of the stereotypes come from, however. As long as there are people out there saying that Christ would back hatred, Christianity will look bad. The sad thing is, the message of Christ was LOVE. He was accused of being a drunkard and a glutton and reprimanded for hanging out with prostitutes and tax collectors - I think a lot of people somehow forget about the gospels when talking about their faith - and those are the foundation!

    Sorry, don't mean to be preachy AT ALL.

    I appreciate your post - ALL of your posts!

  16. Thanks for your comment Missy, I like what you have to say!

  17. I think we first went with homeschooling because it was the best choice for education for our daughter. But as time has gone by I do appreciate being able to teach what we want, not what the state wants - like Bible and what our faith means to us. Unschooling does interest me which is one of the reasons I read this blog.Christians like myself and my family are really not what people think we are, we are a loving family and try to show the love of Christ through our actions and how we live our life. This is not to say that we feel like we are better the others, we are flawed and sinners. Not meaning to be preachy at all. Just want to try to explain how we live our lives.

  18. Interesting that you should ask if I choose homeschooling/unschooling due to religion. I don't think so but somehow unschooling became more prevalent because it made more 'sense' intrinsically to me. I just knew I wanted to homeschool my children (at that point I only had 1 friend that did this) but it took delving into the thoughts of unschooling that I began to see that my spirituality and unschooling collided.
    So ultimately I suppose my spirituality/ religion (or lack of..) drove me to make the full decision to unschool. I hope I make sense...