Friday, April 27, 2012

Hmmm... Homeschooling...

Why are there so many infants in this homeschooling logo?  Curious!

I have been curious about homeschooling lately. I have always been pretty certain that I lack the temperament for it, because even though I always loved spending time exploring with my kids when they were younger - not to mention reading and amassing a book collection worthy of small library status - I really did not think I had the organizational skills nor the sticktoitiveness necessary for success. I have to admit, though, that some days the idea of sailing around the world with my partner and our kids - providing them with the best darn home schooled education imaginable -  is very tempting indeed!

Actors portraying the Nifty family:
citizens of the world!
Anyway, this week I have had more than the usual number of those days and thoughts about sailing away have been drifting pleasantly across my mind, so this morning - just for fun - I decided to look into what kind of resources are out there to help people like me. You know: people who like to daydream about how cool it would be to sail the world with teenaged offspring, living off the grid- independently and self-sufficiently! - learning new skills (maybe the kids could learn a few things, too) and generally becoming quite literally the coolest family on the planet!  The same people who fail to consider the challenges and frustrations of trying to help said offspring finish their high school education while gallivanting around the globe (killjoy!).

Everyone knows that the homeschooling movement in the USA is dominated by religious fundamentalists - the movement was actually inspired by Rousas John Rushdoony, the Calvinist father of American Christian Reconstructionism - but I happen to know at least one secular homeschooler (Hi Jenn!)  so it has to be at least hypothetically possible that not everything connected to homeschooling would have to be drenched in the blood of Jesus.

Yikes! Website banner for Homeschooling
Education in the shadow of the cross? That is just creepy.
This morning, I decided to idly surf the web to see what resources would be out there for a parent seeking curricula, textbooks and supporting materials in order to provide a good, non-religious homeschooling experience for her children.  I found a secular homeschooling website!  The Secular Homeschool Community homepage lists forums, blogs, groups and resources tabs for homeschooling parents who wish to provide their children with an excellent, broad-ranging, thorough education that is not based upon religious dogma.  Excellent!

Perusing the google search page again, I typed in homeschool textbooks to see how easy it might be to find books and materials to support a homeschooling curriculum as suggested on the website.  At the top of the search results was Homeschooling Books. I clicked on it only to discover that it was obviously geared toward the Christian homeschooling community in spite of its deceptively bland website name and description.

The next site I opened, sporting an equally bland name (Homeschool Supercenter!) looked much more promising.  Their textbook menu included specifically Christian resources and texts, of course, since the majority of homeschooling families are homeschooling for explicitly religious reasons. But at the top of the menu - even before the undoubtedly more popular Christian resources - were several categories of secular textbooks!

Feeling delighted that the second most referred site on the google search for homeschool textbooks offered resources for secular homeschooling, I clicked on the secular science tab and voil√†!  A little intermediary page of full curricula packages popped up. On it, not one real science package was featured, but prominently displayed on the top line was "Apologia", a creationist vomitus of Biblical mythology and anti-education, wrapped up in a fancy package with a SCIENCE label slapped on it.

I have news for the Homeschool Supercenter:  creationism is not science. Calling it science does not make it science. Slapping on a SCIENCE label not only will not make that creationist dreck science, but it is false advertising as well.

8th edition of a creationist textbook
Further perusal of that site unearthed what looked to be some actual science resources, but after the bait and switch in the first layers of link clicking before finding the real science buried under the stealth religion, I am not sure it would be wise to purchase them.  I think a secular homeschooler would need to research every text she is considering for her children.

It must be interesting - not to mention a constant training ground for investigative skills - for secular homeschoolers to avoid the traps that appear to have been laid for them by the Christian homeschool movement. Presenting religious mythology in sciency-looking packages and hiding religious dogma in sciency-sounding language in textbooks and materials is the sneaky tactic used by the religious right to trick people into buying that garbage. If they are really lucky, they hope that people will buy into the nonsense, too, thus fulfilling the greater goal of the religious education strategy, which is to deny children a full education - especially denying them an understanding of the scientific method, free thought and skeptical critical thinking skills - thus keeping them ignorant, fearful followers of the teachings of their church.

Parents are free, of course, to deny their children a full education. In fact, it appears that millions have decided to do just that. Encouraged by anecdotal data which point to superior performance of homeschoolers compared to public school educated children, many homeschool parents are rightly proud of what their children  - and they - are able to achieve. But those "statistics"* hide the complete story. Standardized tests can only test what children can regurgitate under less than ideal conditions, not how well-devloped their critical thinking skills have become. There is no way to know whether they have been taught to simply memorize actual scientific theories (which they are told are lies) for testing purposes, while being taught that religious mythology is the actual truth which they must believe or face eternal damnation.

Christian homeschooling websites often post
 optimistic - and totally fabricated - charts like this.
Homeschooling parents who use religious texts for science and history education deny their children access to reality. Worse, like the sciency-sounding but educationally bankrupt creationist textbooks and materials with which homeschoolers dazzle each other and obfuscate reality, the Christian home-schooled child evinces an educated-sounding pseudo-intellectualism which masks a chasm of ignorance so deep the child may literally never be able to climb out of it.

The Christian homeschooling movement continues to grow. According to hopeful Christian homeschooling websites (quickly google** "homeschooling statistics" or similar), it will continue to grow a lot.  I wonder if secular homeschooling is likewise growing?  I am going to keep my eye on this topic because it is related to some other things I am working on about education and the power of the religious right.

Meanwhile, however, I will just keep dreaming!

*My own informal search on the internet for a source of this type of "statistic" report outside the homeschool community turned up zilch. All of the charts and diagrams showing homeschooling superiority that filled pages of goggle** search results came from homeschooling websites and blogs.
** I accidentally typed "goggle" instead of "google", but really, I did sort of goggle at it, too.


  1. It would be interesting to know how the dramatic changes in access to information over the past fifteen or so years have affected homeschooling curricula. Those families that opted for homeschooling for reasons having nothing to do with religion: i.e., children whose learning styles didn't "fit" well with public education, families looking for a hands on approach involving greater focus on developing craft, or raising animals. Pre-internet, their information would have come from a combination of their own knowledge, books and curriculum goals provided by the state education board. Now the web provides so many approaches and ideas - I wonder if it is just too easy to find yourself teaching your children from a curriculum with a subtly hidden agenda before you even know it.

  2. Exactly my worry, Karen. Especially since these websites use bland names masking their religious focus. I find it hard not to suspect that there may be an underlying agenda - that the bland names are deliberately chosen to suck people in who might not have been looking for explicitly Christian homeschooling resources.

  3. I am a Christian homeschooler. I am speaking on a subject this summer about adding Bible to your homeschool. I was looking for statistics that might point to differences between secular and christian homeschooled children and families. After reading your thoughts, I would just like to say that "free thinking" would encompass "all" thinking. Mixing yellow and blue to achieve green is the science. My believing that something much smarter and more rational than me created it to be that way is no more irrational than you thinking mass cosmic explosions resulted in a rational world. I understand and respect our differences, just don't define free thinking as anything you think is correct based on what men have theorized. One thing we can all agree on is that something begat us and no one who is here now, was there then, to see it it or prove it. It's all faith! Science is ever changing, so even your secular science books today have disproved secular science of yesterday. Nothing has yet to disprove a creator.
    -Tonya S, Tennessee

  4. Thank you for your comment. By your reasoning, you must present the evidence for evolution and current scientific theory in your teaching, or you are guilty of the very thing you accuse me of. I, in fact, do believe that children ought to be taught religious mythology - in fact, I think it is a vital part of education for all children to understand the source of so much of the horror and strife in the world today.
    Regarding your point about "disproving" a creator - that is an old and tired argument. Have you disproven that purple-haired faeries created the universe? No? Then, you must admit that it is possible and therefore perhaps we should teach children that faeries "begat" them.
    "Science is ever changing, so even your secular science books today have disproved secular science of yesterday" <- This is absolutely correct and is one of the great strengths of science. Rather than persist on the wrong path because of dogmatic insistence on holding a pet hypothesis up as an ultimate truth, science attempts to get at the real truth, by being open to changing its mind in the light of new evidence. Many people - notably religious people - are uncomfortable with that approach. It says more about their insecurities than about the validity of the scientific method.
    Science does not insist on being a "final" authority. It expects to change its hypotheses about the natural world as new evidence presents itself if the new evidence contradicts earlier hypotheses. A theory is only established when a mass of evidence has proven that a hypothesis is almost certainly true. Examples: Theory of gravity, theory of evolution.
    I urge you to keep an open mind about both science and religion. Do not rob your children of a proper education. Do not rob your children of the tools to learn as much about the natural world as possible so that they may do some good for humankind.

  5. I m removing your spam link and publishing your comment without it. I do not allow spam on my blog.


    Please, visit this website, critique every point made in every article. If for no other reason than to educate me. Millions of highly educated men do believe in creation. It's not a theory set aside for the ignorant and uneducated. There is proof. It can be found in the eyes of your beautiful children and in the vegetables that you eat, that bring healing.

    I come from an atheist family. Sadly my mother, a highly educated woman and my sister, a doctor of psychology, teaching at a prestigious US university, are both proclaimed atheist. They are two of the most unsatisfied, unhappy people that I know. They feel that they control their own destiny yet have no peace for today or the future. Always struggling with self fulfillment, yet never being filled. Eternity is on the heart of every person.
    -Tonya S, Tennessee

  6. Your request is ridiculous - why don't you visit every scientific site on the planet and critique every point made? There are no more than a few dozen dubiously "educated" men who have sold out to the wealthy big business of creationist religion. It is big business, Tonya. They have sold out to the highest bidder.
    I am sorry for you. I doubt you really come from an "atheist family". Your foolish assertion is the tell that you are utterly ignorant about atheism. Freethinkers do not force their children to identify as anything before they are old enough to evaluate ideas on their own.
    I feel sorry for your family that you speak of them in those terms on public blogs, but I have grown accustomed to the immorality and disloyalty of Christianity. Perhaps your family is used to it if you've been like this for awhile.
    Many atheists do worry about today and the future of humanity. It takes religion to deaden one's empathy.
    Good luck to you.

  7. deeply saddened for you, today
    Psalm 14:1; 53:1

  8. Save it for the children you intend to rob of their intellectual and emotional freedom and the country your religion is determined to destroy.

    "Men never commit evil so fully and joyfully as when they do it for religious convictions" - Blaise Pascal

    "Atheism is more than just the knowledge that gods do not exist, and that religion is either a mistake or a fraud. Atheism is an attitude, a frame of mind that looks at the world objectively, fearlessly, always trying to understand all things as a part of nature part of nature." - Carl Sagan

  9. I see I'm a little late here, but I wanted to chime in. There is more than one homeschooler who is doing it for completely secular reasons. I really appreciate your point of view, and thoroughly enjoyed reading your article; particularly, "the Christian home-schooled child evinces an educated-sounding pseudo-intellectualism which masks a chasm of ignorance so deep the child may literally never be able to climb out of it." I might have to use that one some time. I really feel strongly that you are right about that, except that being a Christ-follower does NOT equate to being an empty-skulled, blind tow-er of the line of BS spewed by so much of the Christian Right. I (mostly) identify as a Christian, as do my children (by their choice), but we are solidly liberal in religious matters, and we certainly do teach evolution and the Big Bang. We also boycott Chick-fil-A, and support Starbucks, both of which decisions I have used as mini-lessons about social responsibility and equal rights. I am a strong believer in a well-rounded education, and in teaching the actual truth, rather than some narrow-minded group's stunted view of it.

    You are completely right that there does seem to be a hidden agenda in much of the material available to homeschoolers. So much so that I have found it necessary to first skim descriptions of all resources and discard any that mention anything remotely Christian before I waste my time with it. It's so sad!

    I am saddened, not merely that you feel the way you clearly (by the comments) do about Christianity, but more so that Christianity has failed so miserably to project anything remotely Christ-like for you or others to find uplifting. I was raised wholly Christian, but have recently come to realize that Christianity, as a religion, is a farce. Your quote of Pascal is dead-on. And I have recently come to realize that Christ himself (even if you only read him as an interesting historical figure) was radically anti-religion! I am starting to see that the Atheists and secularists have more in common with Christ than most Christians! But I maintain that there are more secular-minded homeschoolers than you probably realize. I am part of a secular group in our community that has discussed Pagan spirit days that lead to Halloween, the Yuletide and Hanukkah this past year. You might have to look a little harder for us, but we're there. Don't discount all homeschoolers as Religious nuts!

    Well, I have just turned a quick comment into a bit of a rant. I apologize for that. I hope I wasn't too offensive to anyone with enough of a brain to think for themselves. In conclusion, my real points were: 1. You are right about homeschoolers being predominantly "Uber-Christian Right" morons pushing their agendas (and ignorance) on everyone. Like you, I'm saddened when I think of the generation kids being brought up to NOT think for themselves. 2. There are those of us who think homeschooling is the best option for the exact reason of offering our children a fuller, more rounded education. Traditional school is certainly not immune to the Christian Agenda. Finally, I'm trying to spread the word that not everyone who is a "Christ-follower" adheres to the Christian religious model of hate, bigotry, ignorance, and oppression of ideas. I have a suspicion that there are more of us than you'd think, but that we're so much more moderate or liberal that we just don't ever get heard above the spewing of the Right's idiocy. So I'm speaking up. Thanks for listening.

  10. Hi Elise, thank you for your comment. I am glad that you speak up against bigotry when you see it, and that you are trying to teach your children everything that is good and positive about Christianity.
    I object to the way you have characterized my argument as an attack on Christianity using words like "morons", "empty-skulled" etc. I have never said anything like that because quite frankly I do not believe that.
    I believe that allying oneself with the most powerful majority in this country is a very rational - if unreasonable - decision that millions of Americans make quite consciously. I have said as much in many of my posts. It is dangerous to identify as a nonbeliever in our gods-soaked culture, and of course it is even more dangerous in some other cultures in the world. People who do so are choosing to remain within theh fold where they and their children will be safest - sleeping with the enemy is safer than being identified AS the enemy by the majority which holds the power to make your life a living hell.
    So, no I do not think people who identify as Christ-followers are "morons" nor have I ever said anything of the sort.
    I thank you for pointing out again that there is a small but growing number of secular home-schoolers. I know several of them myself. The point of my article was that for people like them, the materials available for educating their children are nearly all religiously - based, and often the religious agenda is hidden in order to trick non-religious homeschoolers into buying those materials without realizing it. As you point out, this can easily happen unless a parent is very alert.
    I, too, was raised in a Christian home and , contrary to your assumption about me, I grew up very much valuing the positive aspects of religion - so much so that I was well on my way to joining a religious order in my late teens.
    I was a practicing Christian for 40 years.
    There is a lot about religion that is good and appealing to all of us - that is why it survives even when people know on some level that it is, as you say, a "farce", that its doctrines are untrue and its claims to the moral high ground are deeply unconvincing. As I matured, I gradually realized that what is good about religion is what is good about humanity. It is human morality that imbues religions with their most beautiful aspects, but in most cases religious dogma provides a workaround for human morality to fulfill a political or social agenda (to concentrate power unto itself) which is chilling.
    Religious indoctrination begins in childhood for a reason - it is almost impossible for children to resist it when they are immature and dependent on parents for survival. The fear, guilt and anxiety which is inculcated through religion leaves psychological scars which few human beings can erase even if they grow up to embrace a more rational and moral world view. This is the understanding that underpins the religious impulse toward childhood indoctrination. And fear that we might be wrong - that eternal suffering will be inflicted upon unbelievers - is the lingering legacy that prods us to indoctrinate our own children, even if we attempt to transmit a kinder, gentler version of it to them. That lingering psychological fear, combined with the very real and rational threat of a powerful majority to the actual physical and psychological safety of our children seals the deal. We decide better safe than sorry.
    For these reasons, I submit to you that children do not "choose" their religion.
    You sound like a thoughtful and thoroughly decent human being. I am so happy that you are trying to raise your children to be open-minded, well-educated and truly caring about their fellow human beings.
    Thank you again for your thoughtful comment. I wish you every success in your homeschooling effort!