Reader participation requested!
As I wrote Part I of my review of Story of the World, I realize I often refer to secular homeschooling materials. I’m not, however, a secular homeschooler. The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines secular as, “1 a : of or relating to the worldly or temporal <secular concerns> b : not overtly or specifically religious <secular music> c : not ecclesiastical or clerical <secular courts> <secular landowners>”. I think most homeschooling families would agree with that second definition of the word, and that’s the definition with which I’ll work.
I’m a Unitarian Universalist, a member of a liberal religious tradition respecting the dignity of all people and encourages individuals to seek a spiritual path that works for them. We have no creed but rather a set of principles. Our roots are Judeo-Christian, and some UU churches are closer to these roots in practice than others. The church the boys and I attend has, for the last few years, focused on religions of the world, encouraging a search for a spiritual path while examining the paths well-travelled by others for millenia. I follow an eastern bent, finding meaning in Buddhist and Hindu belief systems, but I would largely call my spiritual search a work in progress (I blog about that work at findingmygrounduu.wordpress.com). My boys have pronounced themselves UU atheists, for now. I’m sure they’ll explore plenty of paths as they grow, and the choice of how to honor what is greater than themselves is entirely theirs.
Simply put, we’re not secular homeschoolers. Thanks to an outstanding RE program and a good deal of at home study of the world’s religions, religion is a part of almost all we study. My beliefs about the inherit dignity and worth of every living thing (the first UU principle) colors the way we study history, science, and literature. We’ve studied the Jewish diaspora, the Crusades, the Inquisition, and the settling of North America by Europeans each with the rights of the people involved first in mind. Understanding religion increases our understanding of history, whether the history of war or of peace, and our UU religious tradition underscores our view of events. We look for injustices and the peacemakers who work to overturn them. We’re hardly secular in our study of history.
I teach the science of evolution while exclaiming the wonder and mystery of this universe we share. Since I’ve yet to find a Unitarian Universalist science curriculum, we use largely secular materials (of which there are few designed for homeschoolers). Evolution, natural selection, and the interdependent web of life (UU principle 7) take center stage in biology study. Discussion about the very large and very small turns philosophical quite quickly, and I imagine as we understand more about our universe and its origins may become more frankly religious. Certainly the tender spot where science and faith meet is fertile ground for much discussion in our home.
Literature selections often spring from science and history study. Largely classical works, these books provide another forum for discussing our beliefs and exploring how others have expressed their beliefs in their point of history. When we studied World War II last spring, I exposed both children to some age-appropriate, carefully chosen holocaust fiction. My younger adores reading about the war, but he’s openly anxious about that portion of WWII. The stories we read were largely about Jews being hidden or escaping, and they allowed up to discuss a bit of this deeply disturbing part of history in a non-frightening way. It allowed us to discuss injustice and helped him make connections to that time and other attempts to wipe out those who a group in power didn’t agree with. It was far from a secular study.
I’m disturbed by an undercurrent of anger at and derision for the religious on sites and blogs promoting their secular stance, and undercurrent not different from that of some openly religious homeschooling sites. Rather than promoting a spirit of acceptance of our different beliefs and philosophies, these self-proclaimed secular folks come across as if they feel superior to those with any religious beliefs. Not all of them, of course, but enough make me, a liberal UU, uncomfortable in the presence of that discussion. Secularism to be the reasonable and logical choice to many of these folks –no problem. That’s their choice. But condemning those who make different choices? That’s where I won’t go.
So while many other evolution-teaching, free-thinking, liberal folks do, I don’t participate in Secular Thursday, a practice some bloggers use to discuss secular homeschooling issues. And I don’t subscribe to Secular Homeschooling Magazine, a newer publication that purports to be “a non-religious bimonthly magazine that reflects the diversity of the homeschooling community.” After reading some copies a few years back along with some articles online from the current issue (#11), I find their tone anti-religious, especially anti-Christian. Not every article, but enough that I don’t want to financially support the endeavor. And that hardly seems to “reflect the diversity of the homeschooling community.”
I think it’s quite possible to hold discussion about homeschooling without referring to religion in a way that offends or disparages. I think it’s possible to write about homeschooling in a way that is inclusive of those of all faiths, as well as those who choose no faith at all. In fact, many issues facing homeschooling parents aren’t about religion at all, although for any family, faith or lack there of underlies all living. Homeschoolers, like the larger population are diverse, just as Secular Homeschooling Magazine notes. Reflecting that diversity doesn’t happen without respecting religious differences as part of that diversity.
Let’s start a conversation, a respectful one, about this topic. Do you consider yourself a secular homeschooler? Do you follow a spiritual path that isn’t a dominant one? How do you teach your children about the range of beliefs in our world and still focus on the beliefs your family has? Do you do it with love and respect? Let’s talk.