Homeschooling Goes Secular

unscoolHomeschooling originally started as distance learning for people who had no access to schools, eg, military families, field scientists, and remote area homesteaders. As populations grew more dense and families separated for career and family tracks, homeschooling became a means of choosing to be more religious in education. These homeschooling families felt secular education to be too immoral for their children. Recently, in spite of greater literacy and less school violence than ever before many secular families felt their schools were too violent, not sufficiently supportive of special populations, or insufficiently financed to support the arts, noncompetitive sports, or academic excellence beyond competency.

When Jennifer Pedersen-Giles started to home-school her son Westen six years ago, it was because he needed a more hands-on environment than what public schools could offer. Now the eighth-grader studies writing, music, art, geometry, literature and world religions from his home in Arizona.

Religion, in other words, had nothing to do with his mother’s decision.

She’s not alone. According to the federally funded National Center for Education Statistics, the share of parents who cited “religious or moral instruction” as their primary motivation for home-schooling has dropped from 36 percent in 2007 to just 16 percent during the 2011-12 school year.

school prisonBoth my spouse and I abandoned relatively lucrative careers (middle-class) to first live on a sailboat and then migrate, yearly, between a farm in the North and a bridgeless barrier island in Florida. With a Phd in English education and other credentials we were extraordinarily privileged to homeschool in spite of lack of financial resources. Now slapped to the poverty level, abandoning homeschool for work income,  and slowly recovering, we have had one child decide to homeschool again, citing issues of bullying, routine, and regimentation. Something a friend, an exprincipal, warned me of. We are raising children that don’t feel comfortable in typical career environments. Not entirely true. Our first born is thriving at college but maybe he is right anyway as a college is not much like a corporation, nor should it be.

13 years ago we had a much harder time finding curricula and started with workbook culture from Calvert but soon abandoned that style except for Math with Saxon which stills rules with its emphasis on repetition and gradual increments. Math like all languages including reading benefits from deep skill accomplishment.

This rise in mainstream home-schooling is reflected in curriculum needs, Buck said.

“A lot of people who contact us are looking for an alternative to the very many overtly Christian home-schooling programs that are out here, because that just does not fit in with their values,” Buck said. “They’re looking for secular home-schooling or just generally nonreligious.”

In posting to a local homeschool forum I alienated myself from a lot of my more religious neighbors. I did find a secular homeschooling site but it had  no local events, meet ups, or resources. Almost like a repeat of Civil War culture, this part of WV is divided between North and South sensibilities and many folks are spiritual but not religious, or religious but not churchy. I have been labelled as a free spirit when in fact I am a freethinker–I am not a hippie but an intellectual.

Edelson said there are generally three types of home-schoolers: those who do so for religious reasons; the “free spirits” who oppose a regimented public school system; and the “accidental home-schoolers” who find their children do not thrive in a traditional school environment.

It was also true that for us it was difficult to gain some social success because other homeschoolers here were religious, had special needs, or vocationally oriented–we were academically oriented even if unschoooling has an alienating effect on many academics. Luckily, being near a small college town and a growing bedroom community for DC we have found resources and like-minded folks.

unschoolingOddly enough some families with academically gifted children trust schools or their own educator abilities so little they matriculate their children to multiple schools and even colleges. This makes parents chauffeurs and I believe discourages auto didacticism which to me has always been the point. It also can add more burden to women that already have too much to do.

A real danger is much like the military draft versus volunteerism. If the best and the worst choose to exclude themselves from public schools there is less incentive to make public schools better. Ultimately I would prefer public schools to improve while expanding resources for distance learning. In other words even if we had homeschooled all our children I would fight to better fund and manage schools rather than just abandon them. People like Michelle Rhee make me very angry when she blames teachers rather than resources for education becoming more stratified. Successful homeschoolers will demand better schools.

Jim Newman, bright and well

About Jim Newman

Jim Newman is a philosopher. When I was young I wondered what was the ultimate truth. How should I behave? What makes it all work? I was intensely curious to know what it all means. It was enlightening to realize there is no ultimate truth, but nevertheless sufficient and necessary turth, and that meaning was a meta analysis of living one’s life. In this sense my work has been living large. Living and experiencing life has made me learn many things. Building boats, motors, houses, electronics. Raising animals. Teaching. Writing. Photography. Drawing. Knitting. Sewing. Cooking. Music. Painting. Hiking. Aboriginal living skills. All material aspects of reality that seem irrelevant until you realize they allow you to experience more. My epiphany came when I read Christopher Hitchen’s “Letters to a Young Contrarian” and I felt vindicated in my many meals of sacred cow.
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