In most settings I interact with people there is a presumption that a person will keep quiet about his or her religion, and not assume to know what religion the other person is. In homeschooling settings the rules are often different. Homeschoolers are often quite vocal about their religious beliefs.
Of course there are many secular homeschoolers. Some of the secular homeschoolers are atheist, some are religious, but choose to homeschool in a relatively secular manner. There are regular news articles about “the new homeschoolers” and how “homeschooling isn’t just for religious people.” Yet still the abundance of secular homeschoolers don’t quiet the religious talk. After all, many religious homeschoolers are homeschooling because they want to be incredibly open about their religious beliefs. Why should they quiet it down in support of others? This is true particularly for those that feel that sharing their religious beliefs is sharing the best part of themselves with others.
Yet the abundance of religious material in homeschool circles can also make some people uncomfortable. To be honest, it makes me uncomfortable. Trying to stay active in the “homeschool blogging community” I wade through the religious posts all the time. Sometimes I can appreciate the underlying ideas, the curriculum reviews and craft ideas while ignoring the religious tones. Other times I just click elsewhere, hurriedly, while shaking my head in disbelief. I see blog posts about teaching kids about mythology without wanting to introduce much mythology because talk of “other gods” might confuse the kids. Or there is a book – supposedly about the history, culture, etc of Asia – being marked to homeschoolers with tweets about how it will teach children how to pray for those in Asia, as though that were the primary goal of learning about another continent.
Staying silent when uncomfortable might be respectful of religious beliefs, and in most cases that’s what I do. But then there’s those times when I think: “wait a second, sometimes the religious beliefs are dangerous and sometimes not speaking up feels wrong.” Sometimes it also feels lonely, and isolating, since secular homeschoolers tend not to speak up tons about being secular.
There’s a Facebook group for buying and selling used curriculum. Someone posted a link to an article about the Romeike family, from one of those incredibly biased media places that wanted to imply that Obama is out personally to spite homeschooling Christians. Someone else tried to point out that political and religious debates were against the group rules, and the person posting argued that they weren’t posting a “debate.” And they weren’t. But if anyone attempted to say, “wait a second, the article you linked to misrepresents the facts” then it would have entered the realm of debate. Interpreted according to the original poster’s (unspoken) interpretations the rules are that no one can question what is posted, but posts can be as religious/political as they want. Debate is to question other people’s posts. As it was, the moderator deleted the post, then the original poster complained that the group was anti-Christian and the person who had pointed out the post was against group decisions ended up leaving the group upset. Is something debate when you post something controversial, or just when someone voices their disagreement? I wonder what would have happened if someone posted the counter argument about the Romeiki family (such as that they don’t really count as refugees) as a separate thread. Would it still be considered debate then? (Besides of which, I cannot fathom how someone can view a Facebook page where the majority of the curriculum exchanged is religiously based as being anti-Christian.) But my point is, that in certain circles stating anything Christian is considered normal and stating anything that might be critical of Christianity is considered debate or hostile.
There are homeschoolers who don’t like the stereotype that all homeschoolers are religious, and I know that not all homeschoolers are religious. Yet so much of the homeschool infrastructure – curriculums, online discussion groups, conferences, even legal insurance – is religiously-based. It doesn’t make sense to talk as if homeschoolers are all a diverse group and there just happens to be lots of conservative Christians. Instead we should acknowledge that there are at least two large groups of homeschoolers: religious fundamentalists and what for lack of a better world I will call secular homeschoolers but includes many religious non-fundamentalists.
Homeschoolers – both religious and secular – tend to be against regulation of homeschooling though often the arguments they use are different. Both might argue about distrust of the government, but secular homeschoolers are more likely to also point out the inadequacy of standardize testing given that many homeschoolers are homeschooling because their children are exceptional in some ways: gifted, and/or with learning disabilities. Some will also talk about wanting to follow their children’s interests rather than worry about what science topics will be on the exam. From religious homeschoolers, the argument is most likely a parents rights-type argument.
While I don’t totally discount the parent’s rights argument, I’m a little bit hesitant about it too. Taken too far the belief in parents rights justifies incredible belief, and there is reason to believe that much of the fundamentalist religious homeschooling infostructure is taking this belief too far. The HSLDA wants to end child protection services altogether and promotes books like To Train Up A Child, which encourage hitting your child with a plumber’s tube until the child submits.
There is an entire subculture of the Christian homeschooling world that is built on fear. Fear of children being corrupted, fear of children leaving the faith, fear of children adopting different values. In some sense, this also goes hand in hand with a powerful religious hope: hope that if parents get it right, their children will grow up to become the “Joshua Generation” that will restore a Christian America. For these homeschool parents, Kevin Swanson among them, homeschooling is not simply an educational option. It is a movement, a tenet, a faith. And we are the apostates.
If homeschoolers want to break the stereotype that all homeschoolers are incredibly religious patriarchal families, they need to be willing to speak out. Break the stereotype by refusing to be a shield for abusive situations – refuse to join the fear-based tactics of the HSLDA which says all parents everywhere need to live in fear. Refuse to allow your desire for educational freedom to provide complete isolation for abusive homeschoolers. Instead work towards sensible, just legislation.
One example of good legislation is, I think, what Alberta was doing when I was a teenager. Homeschooling in Alberta I had to be registered with a school board but my parents could choose which school board to register me with. My local school board required all homeschoolers to use correspondence courses. At first that was what my parents wanted, but after a few years they decided I could drop the correspondence courses. So we signed up with a different school board – one that had staff hired just to help homeschoolers. By allowing homeschoolers to choose which school board to be monitored by, the monitoring of homeschoolers in Alberta is not done by people who disapprove of homeschooling, but rather by those who approve of it and want to work with the families!
I can hear in my mind all the objections, the main one being that abusive families will still abuse and monitoring won’t work. I agree that it won’t eliminate all the abuse. At the same time I see it as an important step in tearing away the wall of support for abuse. It is challenging the notion that parents have sole authority and can do anything they want. Sane legislation helps challenge the notion that in order to protect our right to educate our children we have to go so far as to provide total protection for those who would use homeschooling as a cover for their abuse.
The other argument I’ve heard is that child protective services or children’s aid society are inherently corrupt and nothing should be done to give them more power. Having homeschooling oversight come from school boards would probably make more sense than coming from social workers, and then if social workers were involved for other reasons they wouldn’t be able to just use “oh no, the family is homeschooling” as a cause for alarm. Homeschooling would be an acceptable option. Furthermore, if there are problems with whatever agencies are overseeing children, those also need to be dealt with rather than just used as an excuse to abandon other children. In Ontario there is a push right now for Ombudsman oversight so that the children’s aid society can be held accountable for what they do.
Again, I write this as a homeschooler. I love homeschooling. I believe in homeschooling. I believe that the majority of homeschoolers are great people. But I also know that homeschooling is hard, that homeschooling can be isolating, and that there are plenty of homeschooling resources out there suggesting to homeschooling parents that the solution to their problems is strict (abusive) discipline. (Or for that matter, complete abandonment of their children’s education in the name of unschooling, but that is a topic for a different post I don’t currently have the energy to write.)
Finally, I want to end this with a paragraph from the blog of Libby Anne. She wrote:
One common response to the idea that there should be some oversight of homeschooling is that parents can be trusted to educate their own children and want the best for them. The problem with this is that accountability isn’t something only bad people need. It’s something good people often need too. Can you imagine going to work without having anything at all to ensure that you actually do what’s in the job description? Sure, in those circumstances there are some people who would still do everything they were supposed to, but there are lots of people who would slack off. Accountability isn’t a bad thing and it’s not something to be afraid of.
Accountability isn’t something to be afraid of. Accountability is something we should be okay with. I like the comparison of holding homeschoolers accountable with employed people being held accountable. There’s a weird contradiction between the image that any bureaucracy charged with overseeing homeschoolers would be impossible to hold accountable but that homeschooling parents are inherently trustworthy enough they don’t need to be held accountable – or maybe it is that the homeschooling parents could only mess up their children’s lives, whereas beaurocracy could mess up ours?
I’ve linked to a few sources. But some good places to explore the darkside of homeschooling are:
- A blogpost about the HSLDA
- Coalition for Responsible Home Education
- Homeschooler’s Anonymous
- Love Joy Feminism Blog
I also want to include a link to a post I did earlier about the book Armagedon Factor The Rise of Christian Nationalism in Canada and a link to an article about Homeschoolers as Republican Foot Soldiers.
What do you think? I know I’ve touched on a number of different topics, but I’d welcome comments on any of them. Can you think of examples of places that have reasonable homeschool legislation? What are your arguments for or against it? What do you think of the religious aspect of the homeschooling infrastructure? When does something become debate? What defines when something is “anti-Christian”? One model of tolerance is for certain topics to remain off the table, untalked about, but is there another model that would allow both religious and those who disagree to express themselves?