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Feminspire | April 24, 2014

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Feminist Homeschooling: We’re Not All Right-Wing Religious Folks

Feminist Homeschooling: We’re Not All Right-Wing Religious Folks

I was all ready to finally sit down and write a blog about how I raise my daughter as a feminist, homeschooling, full-time work-at-home mom (that one always surprises people) and so many other roles I play. I was going to list some of the resources we use, the trips we’ve made, the projects we’ve done and how my daughter made her own Susan B. Anthony currency to use because she doesn’t like how women are not represented in our currency system.

But then something distracted me, so I’ll have to begin this series about feminist homeschooling from another place…

Tonight I saw an ad for some kind of homeschooling product or something linked from a news story a friend had shared—it actually turned out to be a propaganda-filled story on an anti-choice website with the slogan “Together we will stop abortion.” Wow, what a statement to make, by the way—exactly how are you going to do that? Stop rape? Provide free birth control to every citizen? Alter human DNA so that no babies are born until a person instantly wants one? I’m very interested to hear your strategy, anti-choicers. And no, I can’t call you pro-lifers, because you’re not pro-lives-of-women-who-need abortions. Some of you aren’t even pro-lives-of-doctors. Many of you are ironically pro-death penalty, too. But again, I digress.

Anyway, this ad had a header that read, “A Homeschooled Child,” and if was followed by some interesting statements, like “doesn’t learn that God is dead,” “learns abstinence not safe sex,” “doesn’t learn that Timmy has two daddies,” etc. WOW. With statements like these, it’s no wonder people think that my homeschooling family and I just can’t be liberals.

I am happy to tell you, however, that a homeschooled child—at least in the homeschooling communities that my family takes part in, which includes four— has a great education, a great life filled with community interaction, volunteering, cultural immersion and the opportunity to follow their passion. And some of these homeschooled children are not quite what this ad would have you believe.

My homeschooler certainly doesn’t learn that god is dead; she learns that there are many gods and goddesses, and that humans, in fact, invented religion with our imaginative minds as we tried to explain the mysteries of the universe, like how the sun comes up or why we get sick.

My homeschooler is only seven, but she doesn’t and will not learn safe sex; she will learn safe sex and is learning how to make her own decisions every single day and that she can trust mom and dad with any decisions she does make and to always support her no matter what and to trust her gut when it’s the right time to have sex or get married or have a baby, and that none of these things has to happen at the same time. My homeschooler even knows what her clitoris is and she’s pretty damn proud she has one. Why shouldn’t she be, and why shouldn’t she know? It’s her body; she asked and I answered. That is my job.

My homeschooler doesn’t learn just that Timmy has two dads, because he might have two moms. Or a grandma. Or just one mom, or one dad. Or foster parents. My homeschooler loves When Tango Makes Three. Sometimes she even pretends that her squinkies or stuffed animal families have two mommies or two daddies when she plays pretend. She doesn’t mind boycotting places that obstruct gay rights with her family. When a fellow homeschooler informed her that two girls can’t get married in our state, she was furious. She has a very strong sense of justice and wants to fight to make Missouri a gay marriage state.

So no, a homeschooled child is not this list above; in fact, I read the other day that only around 30% of homeschoolers do so for religious reasons. That’s not even half of us.

I think the reason why homeschooling continues to grow exponentially every year is that people are just waking up and seeing that our system’s one-size fits all approach is simply not working for our diverse, technologically growing community—nor the hearts and souls of our kids. Families also look different today, with more flexible work schedules and options at their fingertips. Learning is also quite easy with the Internet; you can take thousands of college courses online for free.

Some kids enjoy school and it works for them; some don’t. Homeschooling is a joyous lifestyle for many people and it’s a beautiful choice that we get to make. Choice is always beautiful, isn’t it?

I know many religious homeschoolers. I also know many non-religious ones. Of those who are religious, I know Buddhists, Mormons, Baptists, Pagans, Lutherans and Catholics. I know lots of humanists and atheist homeschoolers, too. My husband is one of those. Me, I’m a little eclectic—I’m a geeky science-aholic that collects Buddha statues, meditates and smudges her house when it feels tense. People call me earthy; I can dig that. Get it? Ugh…

My point is that we are very diverse, and you cannot peg down “homeschooler lifestyle” any more than you could “hetero/homosexual lifestyle” because everyone is different. You’d think we’d all get that by now!

Wood Sprite* knows that mom and dad are liberals, too. She doesn’t always agree with us (usually regarding the purchase of horses or ice cream and such) but she wanted to know about the local candidates I supported last year, and decided to campaign with me on her own. She goes into the voting booth with me every year. She wrote President Obama a letter last year. In his response, her favorite thing, of course, was the picture of his dog.

We have studied—and continue to study—worldwide religions regularly. Right now she’s very much into the Egyptian pantheon, and she knows that I expect her to find her own beliefs, in her own time. We hold to ethical values as a family as far as some things go—the golden rule, pretty much, and not hurting or yelling at anything with feelings when we can avoid it—but when it comes to an entire belief system, well, she has her whole life to figure that out.

“A homeschooled child,” after all, is much more than a sales banner. Homeschooled children are their own people, and if they live on Earth, you’d better believe they’re going to learn that Timmy has two daddies eventually, and how to have safe sex if they want to have it.

They’re very resourceful, children.

Written by Sara Schmidt

*Wood Sprite is the online alias of Schmidt’s daughter.

  • FeministDisney

    Interesting piece though I felt the digression was sort of unnecessary/should have been saved for another article.

    I felt like the presentation could have used more acknowledgment of the reasons home schooling isn’t an option for everyone. I’ve met enough home schoolers to know they’re a diverse group. I’ve also met enough home schoolers to know that it’s not accidental that the community is largely middle to upper middle class. It’s a wonderful alternative to sub par city public schools? That’s great. It’s almost like private schools. Still doesn’t address the problems with class systems & education.

    I also felt like it glossed over some of the reasons culture sometimes looks to home schooling with a wary eye. It is difficult to set it up in a way that truly allows your child to be exposed to multiple perspectives, at least in the sense that traditional school does or at least, can. Someone who thinks teaching their child to “ask questions” is enough to satisfy this is not really doing anymore than the parent that teaches their child that abortion is bad, “But always ask questions.” How you ask is determined by how you’re raised.

    But I’m being sort of harsh considering that the point of the article was to defend home schooling, not to present some sort of balanced equation of how it works for all families in general.

    • Sara

      This is actually the first in a series about homeschooling, like I noted in the intro, so it by no means covers everything that I’ll be writing about from my perspective as a homeschooler. That said, thanks for the idea about cultural perspective; as a woman who attended an all-white school with all-white teachers, most of them conservatives, I think writing an article about how my daughter learns from people of various cultures, religions, and backgrounds through our co-op, museum classes, library classes, sports and music programs is a good idea. ;)

      • Soni Hymn

        I agree. My daughter does the same and I was thinking about writing my own blog post about this very topic. I always get this thing about culture and class. I personally can’t afford private school, homeschool is cheaper. I live near the poverty line. I am a single parent working from home. The elementary schools around here are either mostly white or mostly latino, not diverse. I find that common in California…homeschooling in my town is about as diverse as the public schools, at least at the elementary level. The truth is that homeschooling is growing exponentially because people are realizing it is often the best choice for their children but a lot of folks are stuck in the cliches of yesterday. School is just as bad as it was when I was a kid, I just had a 5 year stint working in them. ANd I live in a town that people move to for its schools!

    • Yeshe Thubten

      What I see in your post is the same criticisms that homeschoolers get all the time. We find it quite tiring. I think the only way to get a full picture of how homeschooling works – and yes, it really works – is to meet homeschoolers. To go to a conference, a camp, a social gathering. Talk to the parents, the kids. I don’t think even the biggest skeptic could doubt that the majority of homeschooling parents are only aiming to give their children a comfortable, diverse and interesting educational experience.

      I am not upper to middle class and I homeschool. Actually I’m a single Buddhist mother of a girl that, like the author I am trying to offer a broad range of life learning experiences. I think in this kind of article it’s unnecessary to talk about ‘how homeschooling isn’t for everyone’. Or if you are going to, you also MUST talk about ‘how school isn’t for everyone’. In outlining her approach to homeschooling I felt the author was simply showing in a general sense that we are not all crazy right wing nut jobs – which seems to be a common preconception in the US (not so much here in Australia where we are all perceived as welfare cheating hippies AND strange religious nuts).

      As for homeschooled kids having a broad range of experiences, well, we also hear that too much. Homeschooled kids are IN the world. Far more than children who are stuck in a school room for the majority of their day. In fact one could say that adults who go through school, into college and straight into an office job etc. would have far less experience in the ‘real’ world that the majority of homeschoolers have.

      Some travel the world, or their country. Some spend hours in libraries or work part time in animal shelters or soup kitchens, some play and learn some read and learn some play video games and learn. Because it’s impossible to BE in the world without learning. How many times I’ve had friends tell me that they have learned more since leaving school than they ever did as a child. I feel this is true for myself. I laboured through the public school system, barely graduated high school and then EXPERIENCED the world. And I haven’t stopped learning.

      I wasn’t raised as a religious person, but I know many who are and as adults they have had to deconstruct and/or analyse the beliefs their parents and school instilled in them. Some rejected them, some kept their ideologies. It will be the same for homeschooled kids as they find their own way in the world, growing into adults.

      I have not met ONE homeschooler, religious, secular, feminist, middle class, working class etc. that hasn’t exposed their kids to the world. To a variety of people and experiences. And yet I know many people who went to school and never questioned anything. Who were told what to think and thought it blindly.

      Western education systems are basically child care so women can be in the workforce and keep the economy running. There are so many issues but it’s not necessary to outline them here. Google it. There are so many wonderful books, articles, talks on modern education, it’s failings and the importance of and innovation homeschooling injects into a flailing society.

    • Tinani

      I’m a single atheist mother. I am not anywhere near middle class. I am struggling and too proud for state aid pouring every bit I have to the most important thing in my life: giving my daughter every advantage.

  • Nikki Mance

    i love this SO MUCH. i am dying to homeschool my own children someday.

    • Sara

      Thanks! :) There’s about a million ways to do it, and I know everyone from single moms to affluent families who do. If you need help getting started feel free to let me know and I’ll do my best to give you some info.

  • Suki Wessling

    Thanks – I could almost have written this! It’s so typical that people in the comments focus on what you didn’t address. Why should you address why homeschooling isn’t for everyone? Going to the neighborhood public school isn’t for everyone, either. Going to your local Catholic school isn’t for everyone, either. No one would ask you to justify those choices in the same way. It’s as if the choice to homeschool threatens other people so much that they want us to defend not only our choice but everyone else’s choice.

    I am glad to live in an area where there are so many homeschoolers, I hardly know any Christian homeschoolers who homeschool primarily to keep their kids away from dangerous ideas. (I guess they see me coming and I might as well have “dangerous idea” in neon on my forehead…) The homeschoolers I know are actively involved in their kids’ lives, wanting their kids to grow up as themselves rather than emulating popular culture and advertising, full of excitement about learning. Their kids are a fabulous range of people, from nerdy and intellectual to wild and creative.

    I wish that if non-homeschoolers could understand one thing, it’s that homeschooling is completely personalized. If you know one homeschooling family, you know one homeschooling family, period. We do it to educate our kids in the best way possible for each child, and so we are not some monolithic group. We are individuals and individualists, and that’s the way we like it.

    Thanks, Suki

  • Sofia Bell

    I just LOVE this article! Thank-you.