School-Free Learning and Religion

One of the first things people think when they hear you don't, or didn't, go to school, is "oh, you must be religious."  And by religious, what they really mean is that we must be either fundamentalist or evangelical Christians. 

I think that the image that instantly comes to most peoples minds when they think of homeschoolers (since most people think that all school-free learners are Christian) is a very specific one: it involves girls in long skirts or dresses, boys in dress shirts, and mothers in denim jumpers.  Families with (often many) more than 2.5 children, who do their schoolwork at the kitchen table and have daily Bible study. The stereotype goes that they may also hate gay people and have a problem with the theory of evolution. 

The Duggar family from TLC's 19 Kids and Counting. (Source)

And, well, that stereotype is actually based in something.  Growing up, many of the homeschoolers I knew fit it almost exactly!  It's probably not surprising to discover my family felt pretty out-of-place at certain homeschooling gatherings.

Because my family?  Well, school-free learning definitely wasn't a choice made for religious reasons of any kind, Christian or otherwise.

My father seems pretty atheistic, but I don't think cares enough about religion either way to even bother labeling himself.  My mother is a rather spiritual person, with her own personal beliefs and a definite attitude of live and let live.  My sister once referred to herself as a "superstitious agnostic", which I loved, but she doesn't feel the label of agnostic fits any more, and hasn't replaced it with any other labels.  And me?  Well, I usually simply refer to myself as an animist, and I also throw a little goddess/earth worship into the mix.

I got a necklace much like this for Christmas. (Source)

The difference in outlook can be seen clearly in this story: I remember a homeschoolers group activity my sister and I were part of one summer.  They gave us each a small New Testament bible, and we memorized a small passage each meeting.  Actually, I think it might have specifically been a bible club thing, that my sister and I decided to go to simply because we had friends there.  But either way, I remember that Emi loved that little bible.  It had a faux-leather cover and gold writing.  Emi thought it looked like a spell book, and used it as such in her regular play.  

It might start to sound at this point like I'm not all that fond of Christianity, and that would be accurate.  To be honest, I'm not all that fond of any organized religion.  But as with everything I'm less than fond of, I try to keep things pointed squarely at the big guys: I have a problem with schools, not those who attend them.  Similarly, I don't like the institution of religion, but that doesn't mean I dislike the followers of a religion.

What I do dislike is the politics and opinions that frequently go along with fundamentalist Christianity, though.  The hatred of GLBTQ folk, the idea of "purity" and repression of sexuality, the belief that physically punishing children is okay, the overall sexism.  When I was young, I didn't notice all that stuff, despite the fact it was very evident at times.  I think kids often don't!  But once I was older, those types of attitudes definitely started making me uncomfortable.

So do I think choosing not to send kids to school for religious reasons is bad?  No, I don't.  I think it's important that children are loved, treated kindly and respectfully, and given the freedom they deserve.  The families who strive for this are the ones I personally agree with most, and I don't really think whether those choices are made with religion in mind or not matters at all.  I consider myself a very spiritual person, and I don't really separate the various part of me into different categories.  Everything I think and feel has an effect on everything else I think and feel, thus my own decision to never send my (unwilling to go) future children to school is as much a spiritual choice as anything else.

And really, it would be very nice if people started realizing that the school-free community is a vast one, and one that encompasses a wide variety of people who don't send their kids to school for a wide variety of reasons.  School free learners are Christians, Pagans, Jews, Atheists, Muslims, Hindus, and any other religion you can think of.  They're conservatives, liberals, republicans, anarchists, supporters of the green party, and libertarians.  There are a LOT of school-free people out there, and thus you find a lot of variety.  Some of them I personally agree with, some not so much.  Yes, I think I've probably come across more Christian homeschoolers than anything else, but there are enough home learners who are other than Christian that automatically assuming they are is not really a good idea!

It would also be nice if people would move away from the idea that Christian=X type of home learning, and Atheist=other X type of homeschooling.  That's slotting followers of a specific religion (or holders of a specific label) into a box, and not taking into account the complexities of each individual, why they decided not to send their children to school (or not to go to school themselves), their relationships with each other, etc.  There are radically unschooling Christians, and there are rigidly classically homeschooling Pagans.  I'd personally like the focus to stay firmly on the important things: are they happy?  Are families living together with love and respect?  Or, are they striving to live that way (since it can be pretty hard to actually achieve at times, as I well know)?  Because isn't that what's important?

Why I'm such a strong supporter of unschooling is because I believe everyone has the right to free choice, and because I believe that free choice leads to happy, connected, caring people.  Ultimately, if people are happy, I don't think it matters what type of education they're following.

So.  I've tackled religion, something I've never really written about before on this blog.  Hopefully I've done so respectfully!  And I'd be interested to hear your perspective.  Do you feel religion had any impact on your educational choices (either to have more or less religion in your environment)?  What's been your experience with the school-free community and religion?

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