“What about homeschooling? You know it’s not just for scary religious people any more.”
– Buffy Summers *
I addressed a bit of the why and the how we got started homeschooling in a previous post.
It is true that a large number of homeschoolers homeschool, at least partially, for religious reasons. The ones that homeschool ONLY for religious reasons, I have close to no interaction with, other than as a volunteer for a state organization. They won’t have anything to do with a support group that would allow me to be a member. They are part of support groups where you must sign a statement of faith and they keep very much to themselves. I have only been a part of inclusive support groups. Of course the majority of the country identifies as being religious, so the majority of the group identifies as being religious, they just claim to be the tolerant sort. Over the years I have developed a very different opinion on tolerance than I had a decade ago.
Even as part of these inclusive support groups, I immediately sensed how very much I did not fit in, and that had an effect upon me. Who we are led us to choose homeschooling, but homeschooling has had a definite mark on who we are.
I quickly discovered that when meeting homeschoolers for the first time, more often than not, one of top five questions was, “So… where do you go to church?” Last week on the email list several people got upset because of a field trip being arranged to go look at dinosaur fossils. A creationist summer camp was advertised on the list. Over and over I hear “Because they keep God out of public schools,” as a top response to the “Why do you homeschool” question.
I had a bit of an overreaction to this when I first began to homeschool. I wanted to scream, “Because there is TOO MUCH RELIGION in public schools!” when people asked me why I homeschooled. It was my first official year homeschooling and I felt like I wanted to define how I was different than traditional school, as if everything about what I was doing wasn’t already different enough. Some might have their kids home so they could do bible based math and English lessons, that was not me. I taught her the story of Noah’s Ark and wanted her to tell me if it made sense or not, and to support her conclusions (yeah, an intesive logic curriculum is always effective at the age when you buy them velcro shoes because they still take longer to tie their shoes than you have patience for). I went a little nuts and spent a year shoving so much evolution information into my first grader that I laugh when I look back on it. I bought every single book about evolution that was aimed at children. Sadly for education, and thankfully for my bank account, there were not that many. Whether you want to look at it as indoctrination or education, for most kids in the early years, the general idea can sink in, but the details get lost. I don’t think that year of intensive studies back then had much impact on how much she knows about evolution should you quiz her today (but she did name a pet finch Darwin).
It also began the separation of mind and face. I practiced blank eyes and a soft smile, and I got semi-decent at it. My special mask for park day and field trips. Keeping my mouth shut was never a problem. I am not one for debate. I am not bad at it, I did well at speech and debate in high school and tended to win, even when speaking for a side I did not agree with, but in real life I find it pointless. I do not enjoy it. I have better things to do. I needed certain aspects of the support group in order to best provide a well rounded education and childhood for our daughter and that meant a pretense of a marginal level of conformity (funny since so many homeschoolers pride themselves on being non-conformists).
Our first few encounters found her happily playing with other children, and when I answered incorrectly to the “What church do you go to?” question, many parents would politely make sure that their children found other people to play with. This confused her and hurt her feelings a bit. Before long I learned the trick of sticking her in a Harry Potter t-shirt before attending events where she’d be meeting new people. While that didn’t tell them we were complete heathens, it did give warning that we were not of the “Harry Potter is the devil” mindset. (Interestingly she has since developed a few relationships among the “Harry Potter is the devil” crowd despite being completely nutty about the books herself. Somebody has developed compartmentalization skills.)
She had an assistant coach (teen son of the head coach) at a track and field class ask her if she knew Jesus. When she gave her standard “In our family religion is a very personal thing and I am not supposed to discuss it outside the family” response. He began make several negative comments about her running ability and did nothing to discourage the other children in her group from making outright fun of her. Little encounters like that followed us from event to event.
It was an interesting time. I learned to discretely ask things like “What kind of books will you be reading?” or “What kind of songs will you be working on?” when looking into group classes or clubs. I took extra care to listen to everything said at any type of science workshop. There are two people who provide most of the group science workshops in our local area. One is racist and the other believes in intelligent design. We don’t take advantage of those programs.
Feeling a bit isolated and ostracized I looked into the local atheist groups, even though I am not a joiner of much of anything by nature. They offered no family or child oriented programs and they were hostile toward the concept of homeschooling. Plus, they bored me. I don’t want to sit around and talk about religion all day. I want to discuss interesting things which have merit, like where to find good sushi.
There is another large contingent of homeschoolers in the local community that homeschool primarily for antiestablishment reasons. You shouldn’t be surprised to hear that I do not fit in with them either. That is a post for another day.
It is true we didn’t not find a perfect fit in the homeschooling community, but we wouldn’t have found a better fit in another large community either. There are some upsides to being unusual. You don’t need to go to as many birthday parties. If Chuck E. Cheese doesn’t make me believe in hell, what could?