I wanted to talk a bit about the term ‘inclusive’. It’s a term that many homeschoolers hear often, but there doesn’t seem to be a unified understanding of what it means with regard to homeschooling groups.
By far, the most common use of the term ‘inclusive’ in homeschool group descriptions means that though the group is firmly XYZ (usually specifically Christian based, often fundamentalist), they allow other people to join. By ‘join’, they mean that you’re allowed to participate in their discussions and events, but you’re not allowed to rock the boat, idea-wise. This means that if you subscribe to a scientific age of the earth and the group as a whole purports a young earth ideology, then you don’t get to mention your disruptive beliefs. There is no respectful sharing of information, and no friendly debate allowed. You can come, but you don’t make waves.
The other use of ‘inclusive’ means that you’re allowed to join and have your own beliefs and ideas, and as long as you keep it to a respectful sharing of ideas and not wander off into evangelism land, you’re allowed and sometimes even encouraged to share them. You can be any religion or none, and be perfectly welcome. Often, these types of inclusive groups also define themselves as ‘secular’ as well (meaning that the group, itself, does not promote one religion over another; there is usually no ‘official’ mention of religion at all). This type of group generally welcomes respectful sharing of beliefs and ideas, and even encourages questioning and friendly debate. It is assumed that you’re here to learn and share, and that your beliefs may or may not be in the minority and that’s okay.
It is only this second type of group that actually fit the definition of ’inclusive’. Their practices actually are inclusive; it’s not just that they allow you to be there, they welcome you and your ideas to the rich tapestry of the group. They understand and respect that you may have differing beliefs and don’t tread on your toes with unwelcome religious proselytizing or verbiage that clearly promotes one belief over another. Furthermore, even if the bulk of the group is one religion or lifestyle, they go out of their way to make sure that they’re not doing things that make others feel unwelcome.
Contrast that with the first type of group – they don’t mind if you’re there, but they don’t really want your unique flavor in their mix. I am not opposed to this type of group; I both understand and can appreciate the value in having a group of people available to you that share your beliefs or way of life. Everyone should have a safe place to go to in order to work out their thoughts; reinforce their ideas and help fit new information into the framework of their current foundation. But it’s misleading to advertise your group as ‘inclusive’ when your practice goes against the definitions of the word. Saying ‘open to all as long as you understand and agree that XYZ’ is not the same as ‘inclusive’, especially when you really mean ‘open to anyone who is not homosexual, Atheist, Pagan, Muslim, Jewish or any other religion/sexual orientation/ way of life that we disapprove of’.
Dictionary.com defines ‘inclusive’ as that includes; enclosing; embracing. Thesaurus.com offers across-the-board, all the options, all together, all-around, comprehensive, full, global, whole, without exception as synonyms. As a homeschooling parent, I like the idea of those concepts for my children. I think that it is my job as my kids grow to continually expose them to ideas and thoughts and beliefs that make them think. As a parent and teacher, I am here as a sounding board, to listen to them and help them work through the things they hear and see and learn and help them clarify what they think about it; not to impose my thoughts and beliefs onto them. They have my example, and should they choose to follow, that’s great. If not, then I trust that I have raised intelligent people who are capable of reasoning out for themselves what fits into their life best. Considering the fact that I continue to learn and grow and see my ideas shaped by what I learn with each passing year, it’s ridiculous to think that I would be able to simply ‘tell’ my kids what to believe and have them just merrily go along with it.
I enjoy being part of an inclusive group because it gives my children that opportunity to get to know people of other religions. It exposes them to differing world views and ways of life, and the opportunity to ask questions and in general see that we’re all really not that much different. I think that part of my responsibility as a homeschooling parent is to make sure that my children are exposed to a diverse group of people. How can they learn what they think about things if their ideas are never challenged?
Surrounding yourself with like-minded people is not a bad thing. Surrounding yourself with like-minded people in an effort to avoid coming into contact with ideas and ideals that challenge yours IS a bad thing. Worse, offering a support group to your community in the guise of being helpful, all the while using that group to further a religious agenda or to attempt to squelch other ideas or convert non-conformists is tricksy and dishonest, and hardly conforms to the Christian ideals that many such groups claim to support.
If you’re so confident in your beliefs, then talking to someone who doesn’t share them shouldn’t affect your faith. There is no danger to me in talking to someone who is Christian because I don’t share their beliefs or faith. I have nothing to fear from them, or anything they say. In fact, I think that my beliefs are strengthened by interacting with people who don’t share my beliefs, and I also find that my beliefs are enhanced by understanding why they believe and think the way they do. There’s a beauty in not being so bound up by dogma and fear; getting to see and experience and share someone else’s beliefs is a joyous thing. Having an inclusive group, with a diverse membership makes this process easy, both for myself and my children. What a shame that most faith-based groups can’t say the same thing.
Though I am no expert, I’m going to share my thoughts and methodology on stating and running a group – be it a secular (or non-secular) homeschooling group, a playgroup, a mom’s group – whatever kind of group you want. I’ve started a few groups over the years, and most have been successful. Some are even still around, though they may have changed in form or function, but many served a specific need and met that need so I’d call that successful.
The main reason that I start a group is because I want to do or have something that a group format would be better suited to than just doing it on my own – like a homeschool group or playgroup. So that’s where I start: examine what it is I’m looking for and make sure that isn’t being provided somewhere else. No need to re-invent the wheel, after all.
One of the first steps I take when starting a new group is to create a Yahoo Group and start adding stuff to the calendar. Yahoo Groups are a group email format, so all the messages come to your inbox and replying to one message sends it to all the group members, or one can read the messages forum-style on the group’s webpage. I’ve tried other groups and services, but Yahoo has the best combination of features and ease of access in my opinion.
I usually spend some time setting up the group – adding files that detail how the group operates or whatever other information I want people to know when they join so I don’t have to personally send them that stuff. Yahoo allows you to set ‘auto-send’ files, which is very helpful. You can also set the group to allow anyone to join right away, or so that you approve all new members, and you can control who sees the group’s messages (public or members only), links and other group tools. (I’m not posting screen-shots here; you can find ‘how to’ videos and step-by-steps elsewhere on the web – but it’s pretty self-explanatory after you click ‘start a group’ on the main YG page.) I’m a fan of ‘branding’, so I usually come up with a logo or something that identifies the group as well – pictures are good for fliers and business cards!
Some groups wait to set that stuff up after they’ve had a couple of meetings, or elect a committee to go over those things and decide on guidelines, others wait until there’s a need – I usually start with at least some guidelines so that everyone starts out on the same page. In a secular homeschooling group, especially, I have found that a clear-cut ‘this is what we mean when we say ‘secular” notice has been helpful. We periodically edit and update them as needed.
Next, I decide what I want to do – activities, meetings, events – then I start planning stuff. I usually plan a few weeks out at least, and start calling, getting information, making reservations and asking for discounts. Most places offer a group or educational field trip discount, so I get those if I can. Where I can, I add events to the group’s calendar.
After the group is set up, I usually create a Facebook page for the group and send a note to anyone on my friends list I think might be interested in it. I’ll also go to a local online free classified site and create an ad there. I may also make flyers and take them to the library or park, grocery store – anywhere I think my target audience might be congregating. If you’re shy, you don’t even have to talk to people, just hand them a flyer or leave a stack on the counter (if management will allow it). At this point, it’s an advertising game – I find that the more you have ‘going on’, the more people are interested in what you’re doing. Our group has been around since 2004, but active only in the last year – so know going in that you are the heart and soul of your group. If you’re not interested in updating or posting, none of your members will be either. I update our website at least a couple of times a month, send messages through the group at least once a week and try to post something from the Facebook page every day.
Then go out and do it. That’s basically it. I would be taking my kids to the zoo or a museum or on a hike even if it was just us. Then, I’d talk about it here or on Facebook, and sooner or later, someone will want to join in. Before you know it, you’ve got a group. For me, that’s always the thing that gets left out – even if you don’t have a bunch of members in your group yet, do the things you have planned anyway! Call your group ‘small’ or ‘close-knit’ or ‘exclusive’. Take pictures and show people how much fun you have – they’ll want to come play, too. It’s hard when you’re in a small community, or when your beliefs are so different from everyone around you, but I think there are many people who would be willing to go out and do if only someone would start an awesome group for them to join. Why can’t that awesome someone be you?