Secular Homeschooling in the Bible Belt
If you haven’t heard the term ‘secular homeschooling’ then you might not understand what that’s all about. While I certainly am not the voice for all secular homeschoolers, let me explain a little bit about what that means for our family.
I live in Texas, part of the Bible Belt, where many – the majority, I’d say – of homeschoolers do so for religious reasons. That may not be their primary reason, but it’s certainly on the list. Almost all of the homeschooling families I know (and there are a LOT of them here) use a religiously based curriculum, or participate in a religiously based cooperative group where the parents volunteer as teachers and they all share the workload. The key element in both of those is the religious content – it features prominently in their educational protocols, the material, the language they use, even in the conversations between parents and participants outside of classes – it’s impossible to separate the educational aspect from the religious aspect – and for many families, that’s awesome. It’s what they want, it’s what they choose and it works for them. I’m certainly not knocking that if it’s what works for you.
We choose something different. I come from a strict religious upbringing and as an adult, I don’t share the same commitment to my parent’s beliefs that they do. We have chosen to have more open-minded beliefs and choose not to have any one religious doctrine be the foundation of our educational program. Instead, we focus on academics and seek materials that do not use a religiously themed base.
Some find it hard to understand how we teach science and the origin of life without choosing either a creation-based theory or an evolution based theory; I don’t find it difficult at all. My personal belief is that both factors play a role in the origin of life, but how much of one or the other was or is present in that equation is a matter for all manner of debate. I don’t think it’s my job to tell my kids ‘what’ to think when it comes to that sort of thing, because I don’t think it’s something that can be conclusively proven one way or another. I see my job as to give them information and tools to use do that they can find their own answers if and when it becomes a personal venture for them to delve into. If they never feel the need to do that, then I support that choice as well.
One of the most difficult parts about being a secular homeschooler in the bible belt is the lack availability of workshops and other educational and social opportunities that are not hosted by a religious organization. Though we do have a college near us and will take advantage of that when the kids are older, there hasn’t been much for the younger set unless you go through a church or co-op group. While we’re not entirely opposed to taking part in a religiously based activity, lesson or event, it’s difficult to mesh our beliefs with those of the organization since few religions allow for open-mindedness. Almost all assert that their truth is the only truth, and when you’re not convinced of that it’s challenging to expose your children to that kind of dogma without doing damage control later on. Usually, we abstain from such offerings because of that point alone. Unfortunately, that means that we miss out on some organized activities and resources.
Hopefully though, as secular homeschooling gains popularity, there will be more secular co-ops forming. Even without a formal co-op group, we have been pleasantly surprised at the number of secular activities over the summer that we’ve been able to participate in that have been hosted by the library system and local museums. Between the Summer Reading Clubs (which the kids have now completed – yay!) and the McFaddin Ward House Museum, we’ve been gone more than we’ve been home. They’ve had activities that we’ve used in science, history and language arts lessons, and we’ve met some really wonderful people in the process.
Another way that we connect to our community is through our own homeschool group. While we’re not quite big enough to begin a formal a co-op learning group, we do get together for group lessons, field trips and social activities. Hopefully one day we’ll be large enough to look into forming a more lesson-based and regularly scheduled cooperative. We do have some families who participate in our group that are homeschooling with a religious curriculum, but the group overall is secularly based, which is more welcoming of alternative beliefs and lifestyles and to me, is more representative of real life. I’m quite happy to have the opportunity to get to know the families who’ve been participating in the group’s planned events, and as the group grows, I think it will be quite nice to share resources and tricks of the trade with other secular homeschoolers in my area, not to mention a great place to freecycle homeschooling materials!
If your local area doesn’t have a secular homeschool group and you’re interested in forming one, I can recommend Yahoo Groups as a great place to begin. Our group members have made flyers and put them at libraries and community bulletin boards, advertised on local free online classifieds and good old ‘word of mouth’ to help promote the group. Our group is also listed on several popular homeschooling information sites, like Secular Homeschool.com and A to Z Home’s Cool Homeschooling.
I’ve said before that support from like-minded peers is a key element to success as a mother. That’s no less true when you’re a homeschooling mom. We all find validation in our choices when we see other people making the same choices. Homeschooling is the same type of thing – when we find homeschooling families that look similar to our own, we’re more confident as parents and as teachers. We have peers that we can talk to who share the same stresses and joys, and with whom we can share resources and advice. And if we’re lucky, we just might get some really good friends out of the deal, too.