building community and “homeschool mommy wars”

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I watch a number of homeschool Facebook groups and there’s one recently that has had a number of hot debates on topics like curriculum choices, so it made sense to me when I saw someone posted a link to an article called “Homeschool Mommy Wars.” The article was structured with “5 lies” and then “5 strategies to fight the battle” and it portrays homeschooling mommy wars as a set of mothers tearing each other down using criticism of how others do things and by pretending that homeschooling is easy. I can agree with that part of the article. Homeschooling is often hard. Self-doubt is all too common and even friendly advice can end up coming out sounding like criticism. Within that context, the advice to think before speaking, to try to build one another up, and, if one prays, to pray for strength of character make sense.  (I add “if one prays.” The author of the blog I’m writing about seems to presume one does, or at least, that one should.)

That’s where that blogger and I diverge in opinions. I don’t believe in some mythical enemy:

The enemy wants nothing more than to see the homeschooling movement fail. He doesn’t want you to be able to raise your child in the Christ-filled environment of your home.

I don’t presume all homeschoolers have any interest in a Christ-filled environment. The article gets worse though. It was when I got to this part I really cringed:

Sweet moms, it is time to put an end to the homeschooling mommy wars. It’s time to wave the white flag of surrender. Surrender to Christ. When we fully surrender to Him, we’ll love as He loves. We’ll encourage and build up. Your homeschool will be stronger, your family will be stronger, and those around you will grow in love as they see Christ’s love active within you.

If we want to talk about ending homeschool mommy wars, and being really supportive of other homeschoolers, we need to stop pretending non-Christian homeschoolers don’t exist. You can’t “end homeschool mommy wars” by telling people you don’t know to “embrace Christ.” Doing so dismisses the fact there are Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, agnostic, atheist and pagan homeschoolers! It’s like saying “we Christians shouldn’t argue about how we homeschool – but we don’t have to talk to those who aren’t Christian, they’re not really part of our community” or at least “they can’t really love as well as we can.”

When I saw the post about ending the homeschool wars, I commented about the presumed Christianity aspect of the post. The person who posted said she did “not post this with intent to argue Christianity” and I wrote back I’m sure she didn’t meant to. I’m guessing she didn’t even notice the presumption of Christianity and how it might exclude members of the homeschool community. I didn’t want to argue about Christianity either (and I don’t mean to here) only about how people both religious and non-religious interact with each other and how we can create community that is open.

I accept that one of the things many homeschoolers like about homeschooling communities is that they don’t have to keep quiet about their religious beliefs. I’d just like to make sure there are ways of talking about religion without presuming everyone there will be religious, or implying people are wrong if they aren’t.

In homeschool parlance “secular homeschoolers” aren’t necessarily non-religious, they are just not vocal about faith the way Christian homeschoolers are. I’m a secular homeschooler, though I have a complex relationship with religion. Most secular homeschoolers already accept that homeschool groups are filled with religion. I don’t bat an eye when a homeschool group starts having a discussion on Bible study, and I’m never surprised to find that there are homeschoolers teaching their kids that dinosaurs lived with humans. Secular homeschoolers get used to hearing those type of things, and while some will stay clear of any but specifically secular homeschool groups,  many will accept the religious content of homeschool groups because they want to remain parts of larger homeschool groups, whether online or face-to-face.

I didn’t get to have the conversation I wanted on the Facebook page. The whole thread was quickly deleted, conversation over. I think deleting it was meant to keep the group “drama free.” Drama is all too easy to come by on the internet.

I felt a bit of sadness at the thread being deleted, because I wanted to try to start a conversation there about what homeschool mommy wars look like. There are arguments over curriculum, and implications that if a person isn’t homeschooling the same way as the critic, they’re doing it wrong, and those can in many ways be answered the way the other blogger tried to answer it, with the idea that different families are different. Yet there are other differences not as easily dismissed. What happens with philosophical arguments, like questions over unschooling, rewards, and discipline? Its harder to say “families are different” when one is holding a philosophical viewpoint about how children learn or how giving rewards reduce intrinsic value of something. It would be nice to simply say “all families are different” but it is a little hard to because the underlying belief is that there is some common truth to how children think or learn. So how do we get outside of that – without completely silencing the discussion around it?

I’d like to see more discussion about being supportive when one is, oneself, insecure, because hey, I’ll admit, I have a harder time talking with other homeschooling moms when I’m feeling insecure about what I’m doing. I hear about all the awe-inspiring things other people are doing, or even just their sheer determination in doing schoolwork every single day, and I think, I must be doing things wrong!

I want to work better at just listening, being supportive, and there are times when I’m confident and happy to listen to the wonderful things others are doing.

Some days I’m nervous about talking to other homeschooling moms. I’m scared that when I start talking about the fun things I’m doing, it will sound like I’m bragging, or like I’m implying that they should be doing the same thing. Sometimes I just want to talk about the stuff I’m doing without having it compared to what someone else is doing, without implying I hold any judgement whatsoever about what they are doing.

I have been lucky to have found some great homeschooling friends, and some great online communities too. This isn’t meant as a criticism of any of them, only a questioning response to the blog post I referenced to above, and a recognition that at times there are difficulties.

Do you ever feel like you’ve stepped into “homeschool mommy wars”? What would make it easier for you to feel supported by homeschooling communities? Leave a comment and maybe we can get a good discussion going here.

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  • Nadine

    I love everything about this post!!

    I have had a very similar experience as you in regards to your thoughts near the bottom – about just wanting to share our experiences and not be judged (for good or bad) because of it. Some days I need to vent, or be ‘real’ about what my fears are that day. – without being made to feel like a failure or like I’m “doin it wrong”. Other days I just kind of want to be really excited about what we’re doing, without being accused of being a brag. It’s really frustrating.

    The secular/Christ-centered thing is, really, a constant thorn in my side. I am a ‘secular’ homeschooler, but only insofar as I am a ‘not christian’ homeschooler – I am a deeply spiritual person, with my own path in life. It’s just not a path that follows the Bible, or Jesus, or any other aspect of Christianity. It’s unendingly frustrating to me to try to “find my place”. Not so much locally in the homeschool group – but online, where I tend to go to find community and like-minded mamas. It’s HARD. As for locally… Well, that’s a whole other post topic haha.

    I do feel like there are “Homeschool Mommy Wars”, I think. For me, the only way I have kept from getting overly invested in them is to do a lot of “live and let live” thinking in my own mind, and remind myself I’m working pretty hard to figure out how *I*should homeschool, I don’t have time or energy to worry too much about how others are doing their thing.

    Great, great, great, post Christy.

    • Christy Knockleby

      I think in the secular world, we’re used to dealing with religious differences by not talking about them. Within homeschooling circles some people aren’t willing to not talk about their religious beliefs (because that’s part of why they homeschool). I wonder sometimes if the solution is for the rest of us to be more willing to talk about our own religious beliefs… to encourage a multi-religious homeschooling world where people of different spiritual or religious beliefs are able to express their views without worry. But I think to many people it feels kind of rude to talk about religious beliefs in public… so only the fundamentalist people do it. It is different cultural rules.

      With regards to the being able to talk, to be real about homeschooling and the good and the bad… glad to hear I’m not alone in my difficulties! Maybe we can start to preface things with explanations of how we want the other to respond to particular topics. I don’t know.

      • Lisa

        I know what you mean — when I was practicing law, I was NEVER asked about my religious beliefs. It just did not come up in any conversation. I was almost shocked to find that, in the homeschooling community, that type of discussion is par for the course, and is asked early on in a conversation. It serves a sort of weeding function for people, I think. Are you one of us or not? It’s very hard, indeed, to find a perfect fit in the homeschooling word, notwithstanding the added layer of giftedness.

  • Kristin

    I’ve never commented on a blog before so hope this works!

    I totally agree with you. I, too, am a part of several homeschool pages and groups on FB. About 90% of the “mommy wars” tend to focus on religion. And usually it’s along the lines of “if you’re not teaching your children to be devout fundamental Christians YOU ARE THE DEVIL AND YOUR CHILDREN ARE THE SPAWN OF SATAN.” Ok, so maybe not always that extreme but you get the idea. Before everyone gets too upset–we are Christian, we believe in God, my children have been baptized, and we attend church (though not regularly–but that’s another story).

    The part that probably bothers me the most about these religious mommy wars is the total ignorance so many religious homeschool families perpetuate. Using the bible as the only history book for example. Completely ignoring science, scientific method, etc. Why?? If nothing else, teach your children what others believe in order to protect them from outside influence. Stop putting your heads in the sand!

    Unfortunately, the vocal fundamental Christians are the ones who speak up most often and give other Christians (and homeschoolers in general!) a bad name. I’m guessing that’s a huge reason there are so many people who are against homeschooling–they see the stereotypical homeschoolers as extreme bible-thumping homebodies who refuse to let their children out in the world, whose answer to everything is to pray (which is great, by the way, but us not the ONLY answer to everything).

    I want my children to be open-minded, kind individuals who accept others for who they are, who don’t judge others based on gender, religion, sexuality, race, age, socioeconomic status, etc, etc, etc.
    It would be nice if all homeschoolers thought the same. Then we could focus on educating the rest of the world on the benefits of homeschooling instead of fighting amongst ourselves.

    Ok, end rant. I think I went a little off topic. I’m sure I offended plenty of people. But I am seriously frustrated by all the “my religion makes me better than you” attitude in the homeschool community.

    • Christy Knockleby

      Kristin, thanks for commenting!

      In some ways, your comment says more bluntly something I’m still hesitant to say… at times I’ve been willing to write clearly about my dismay at the ignorance people try to keep their kids in (here and here and here ) Other times I’m more hesitant to admit disapproval because it gets tempting at times to buy into the idea that we have to all be accepting… that to get along, we need to keep quiet and be accepting… that if we want others to offer us space at the facebook group or curriculum resource sale, or the ability to promote one’s blog in homeschooling circles, we need to be accepting and non-judging of religion.

      Is there a time to go ahead and be judging, because really, not everything anyone wants to believe is real and keeping kids in ignorance is wrong? If so, then it makes sense that others are going to continue to judge by their standards, and by certain religious standards many of us are teaching evil. If we go with what we really believe, we are at a stalemate. But how much hiding what we believe makes sense?

      I think for the moment I’m advocating assuming that at least a portion of any group of homeschoolers is non-Christian and another portion Christian, and whatever a person writes, think of how it would effect both. Argue different ideas, stand by what one beliefs and be willing to speak out about it but care for the people still. I mean, there are people I like as people who believe things I think are totally wrong.

      I agree with the idea that vocal fundamentalist Christians often end up giving both homeschooling and Christianity bad names.

  • Betty Gilgoff

    A thoughtful and well written post Christy which I think should/could lead to interesting discussion.

    As you know I am not a home schooler but rather an educator with a long time interest in home schooling. From my now long-time-ago ethnographic academic look at home schooling, I surmised that there were two rather distinct reasons that inspire one to take on the task. Choosing to home school to protect one child from learning about ways of understanding and seeing the world that don’t agree with one’s own, such as fundamentalist religious parents sometimes chose to do, is one of the reasons. This, in my opinion is truly just schooling or more precisely indoctrinating, not educating. While I admire your persistence and patience in trying to bridge the two rather distinct groups of homeschoolers, those that choose to educate versus those that want to indoctrinate, I would suspect that solving the mommy war discussion across that divide isn’t likely to happen. At the same time parents who are homeschooling to educate and for reasons that have to do with their child’s own needs, curiosities and/or learning styles, might more easily be able to appreciate and learn from the successes and struggles of other homeschoolers, by keeping those underlying reasons for choosing to home school in the forefront. Each child is so very unique and as you well know, what works with one child is not guaranteed to work with the next.

    • Christy Knockleby

      There are two different groups of homeschoolers and certainly it is unlikely the divide would ever totally disappear. Yet there is a lot of common space… for example, there is a question of what flavour local homeschooling networks will take on. Sudbury has a homeschooler’s facebook page as well as email list, where we plan joint activities and share information about upcoming events. In a community as small as Sudbury, it doesn’t make sense for the networking space to be divided between those who homeschool for religious reasons and those who don’t – both want to know what library programs are happening. So the question is what the flavour of the group becomes like… will the assumption that everyone is Christian sneak into the group, or become loud enough that, for example, a lesbian homeschooling family would feel unwelcome? It’s those shared spaces that I’m concerned about. Or there are online groups for people discussing using particular sets of curriculum…. curriculum that appeals to both groups of people… how can we keep open spaces so both groups can get better access to resources?

      • Betty Gilgoff

        Personally I think you’ve got it right in your other comment about speaking up more about both why you are choosing to home school as well as about what your religious views are while at the same time being accepting, welcoming and as non-judgmental as you can be in those shared spaces. Wouldn’t that be the best way to help keep them open to as inclusive and open a group as is possible?

  • ChristyM

    Hi Christy!

    In our state, the only legal way to homeschool is through a church. I think that affects perception inside and outside the home school community.

    Another observation, in the culture of the south east US “Christian” = moral person. It is quite shocking to those of us who grew up knowing good moral agnostics. People are often unaware of their own cultural bias, and that may be some of what you’re seeing.

    • Christy Knockleby

      Yes…. definitely part of this is the cultural differences. In Canada Christianity is still sort of the default presumed religion but not nearly the same. People are more likely to say “I’m thinking of you” than “I’m praying for you.” People tend not to talk about religious beliefs and it is a sign of respect not to talk about religious beliefs. Lots of people who do identify as Christian mean that they attend church twice a year and/or want to be married and buried in a church but not much else. So for those of us who have little contact with people from the Southern states outside of online homeschooling communities, the religious aspect stands out more and seems much more freaky.

      Your state requires people to homeschool through a church? That sounds so crazy! How much supervision does the church do on what is taught?

  • Jill

    I find some of these comments hypocritical. To avoid “mommy wars, we must not put other people down. If Bob chooses to teach his children creationism, that’s what is RIGHT for his family. For me to say he is keeping his children in ignorance is showing my ignorance. If Sue chooses to teach evolution, it’s Right for her family. “Mommy Wars” won’t ever stop until people agree to disagree. It comes down to self esteem and security. I’m secure in my beliefs and the way I choose to home school, I don’t rely on the approval of others. Some days are tough. Some days are great. But I need community for love and support as fellow homeschoolers. We need to focus on our similarities, not our differences.

    • Christy Knockleby

      The problem some of us are struggling with is trying to balance openmindedness and acceptance with the knowledge that some things are just not true. Hypocritical? Perhaps… or maybe just a genuine struggle.

      • Jill

        I understand what you are saying, I honestly do. I have struggled in this area to but my point is just as you and I may believe something to be 100% true or untrue, so do others with appoint views. We can only say that this is our truth. Not anyone elses.

        • Christy Knockleby

          I disagree with the idea that we can only say something is “our truth.” I think a person can say it is his or her belief, because we can have different beliefs, but not a truth. The truth isn’t owned. No one knows what it is though we can all strive to get closer and closer to it.

          Yes, others may 100% believe something is true, even while I think 100% the opposite. I don’t think we can solve that dilemma by saying that “what he believes is right for him, what I believe is right for me.” I think we solve it by saying, “we disagree. Do you feel like discussing the disagreement or just leaving it?” and then carrying on with life.

          To use your example… if Bob chooses to teach creationalism… is it ignorance to say that is wrong for his family? It isn’t ignorance to say that he is teaching something that contradicts reliable scientific evidence. If he teaches using Answers in Genesis videos it would not be ignorant to point out the logical fallacies in how their kids videos attempt to portray both evolution and creation, or to point out the lack of scientific evidence for so-called “intelligent design” as presented when intelligent design believers were given the opportunity to present their side of the story in a trial in Dover, Pennsylvania in 2005. There are any number of things that could be pointed out that would not be pointed out of ignorance. The legitimacy of specific details and the reliability of different sources could be debated… and the person might be ignorant of some further information Bob knows… but we can’t simply say a person is ignorant because they can know nothing about Bob and “Bob’s truth.”

          Instead of trying to find a way to believe something and its contradiction at the same time, I support Bob’s right to teach what he believes, even if I think its 100% wrong. At least… I try to support that… but then my over-analytic mind starts wondering about where the limits of that should be… what if someone is teaching their kids that black people are created by the Devil? (Something similar to what Carolyn Jessop, a survivor of homeschooling in the FLDS, says was taught to her.) Can a live and let live attitude extend that far?

          I don’t know. This all strays very far from what I was originally trying to say about how I thought that one blog post advocating an end to the mommy wars was promoting… and I know that the discussion in the comments here can rightly be accused of being just as divisive… people have responded in ways I didn’t predict, and brought up side issues dealing more with the direct question of dealing with different religious beliefs. I appreciate all the feedback and the chance to think this through more.

          The solution isn’t to say those who disagree with one another are all ignorant (they might be, or might not be) but to ask whether there is a point in discussing the differences (to learn from each other perhaps? to find others who have similar beliefs? to keep others with similar beliefs who are watching from feeling totally alone?) or whether the discussion is meant just to draw dividing lines.

          We can’t end “mommy wars” by pretending we don’t disagree or claiming we can all live in separate realities but by agreeing to disagree on certain things and asking how to build bridges anyway.

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