On Homeschooling, Socialization and Religion

Note: This column was printed in the Barrow Journal on September 12, 2012.  It was also posted on the newspaper’s website, which you can view by clicking here.

I’ve had a number of people ask me advice on how to meet other homeschoolers.  To be frank, these parents were discouraged at their efforts to meet other homeschoolers because all they found were Christian homeschooling groups who required a “statement of faith.”

I don’t mean to insult anyone by bringing up such issues, but these are topics potential homeschoolers have to deal with.  People who chose to build an exclusive community have an easier time banding together and standing up for their beliefs because they’re all on the same page. Their families are making a profound statement to the rest of the world.  As someone who doesn’t want to exclude on the basis of belief, I can’t do anything about them, but I want to speak for those who are more open and tolerant. We, too, need to make a statement despite our varied and diverse belief systems.

There are many homeschoolers who want to belong to a religious co-op, and if that suits your needs, then you’ll probably have luck finding a group.  But homeschooling is becoming more mainstream, and many parents are embracing this alternative form of education.  They may not necessarily be homeschooling for religious reasons, and they seek a diverse community for their children to socialize with.

I’ve noticed that a lot of secular homeschooling groups have been popping up, and as I’ve noted before, there’s been a lot of talk about “liberal” homeschooling in the media.  But I think it should be noted that “secular homeschooling” does not necessarily mean “secular families.”  These families may or may not be religious.  They may be Christian too, but they don’t want to limit their social life to one group of people.

My advice to these people is to keep looking and don’t give up.  It’s been a slow road these past two years for me to find people we connect with, and by that I’m not talking about religion.  I’m talking about finding families with similar needs – children of the same approximate age, children who like to play one-on-one like my son, a family who doesn’t live too far away and whose schedule and social calendar isn’t already full.

I found these people by making my needs known on the Internet and paying attention to queries from other families on local homeschooling e-mail lists.  You never know when someone new might join.

I encourage homeschoolers who are seeking a more diverse community to not be afraid of religious homeschoolers.  Yes, there may be families who do not want you in their co-op.  They may not be interested in befriending you unless you hold certain beliefs and live a certain lifestyle.  Fine, let them. We don’t have to agree with someone’s philosophy, but we do have to respect his or her rights.  If we don’t, how can we expect our rights to be respected?

But if you’re like me, you may have been terribly hurt in the past by strident, religious people. I know this can make you angry and hesitant to meet new people – I have been there more times than I care to count.  But I got tired of feeling that way, and I started to remember my life before I understood the impact – both positive and negative – that religion plays in our lives.  I started to think like a child.

When I was a child and young adult, I had a lot of friends from many different backgrounds, but none of that kept us from being friends.  That stuff was just interesting side notes.  What kept or unkept our friendship was how we treated each other.  Was she nice, or did she stab me in the back by liking the same boy as me?  Sounds silly, but it was about kindness and respect.

After remembering the good friends I had who didn’t care what I believed – only whether I was a nice, loyal friend, I decided that surely in this complicated adult world there must be people – even religious people – who won’t hate me because I’m not a strict “insert-your-religion-of-choice.” I decided to stop being scared of meeting new people and whether our beliefs would cripple our friendship.

Guess what?  My best homeschooling buddy is a conservative Christian, but she welcomes other people into her home because “It’s the loving thing to do.”  We have plenty to talk and laugh about without arguing theology.

Another homeschooling parent from a different religion told me that he and his wife wanted to meet people whose first priority was educating their children. They considered their religion something private that they could teach at home.

In my next column, I’ll write more specifically about how I’ve been finding social outlets for my son and suggestions for those who are still looking for a homeschooling community. Meanwhile, remember that there are people out there who will welcome you no matter who you are, though sometimes you may have to search harder to find them.

What has your experience been meeting other homeschoolers?  Have you encountered intolerance?  What are your strategies for creating a welcoming community for yourself and children?

41 Responses to “On Homeschooling, Socialization and Religion”

  1. I really think the solution is to focus on building your own community. I have a friend who was recently pushed out of a group that decided to require everyone to sign a statement of faith. Her children lost their friends; she lost her support group. If you focus on building your own community, you can be inclusive, you can find people who share your values and outlook — and no one can boot you out. ;o)

    • Thank you, Lori. I wish I could somehow highlight your comment – you nailed it. Although I still get nervous meeting people I don’t know. It’s not a topic that’s easily addressed in the beginning of a new relationship.

  2. As you know, we have recently moved to Japan and I was a little sad that we were moving to a place with no liberal religious community (at least, there was no evidence of one). So, after talking with my husband, I decided to make a FB group for UU’s that might be in the area. In just two days, I’ve had 8 families ask to join! They say they’ve been wanting something, but didn’t want to start something on their own. All of them might not necessarily be homeschoolers, but I’ll take what I can get!

  3. Thank you for your post. Religion is always a tricky subject and I appreciate your candor. As I prepare to homeschool my son next year, this is a topic of keen interest, especially since my priority is educating my son, not signing some statement of faith. I look forward to your subsequent post on this subject.

    • Thank you, Teri. It’s something I have wanted to touch on for a long time, but I wasn’t sure how to write it. I was hoping it would be received well. In my next post I’m talking more about what I’ve done to help my introverted boy get out and meet people.

  4. So very, very true. I joke that it took a long time to find my “tribe”—other homeschooling families with kids who are friends to my own, and adults who I want to befriend too. We even found a wonderful inclusive coop that does not require a statement of faith. And, it’s funny, though I follow no religion and am pretty liberal, some of the people I like the most are conservative Christians. I think it’s just opened my eyes to the fact that friendship can bridge many gaps if you let it.

  5. We are Christian but are definitely in the “secular homeschooler” camp. I knew when we started last year that I wanted to be involved in an inclusive group rather than a Christian group with a statement of faith requirement because I just felt like we are part of a bigger homeschool movement. We don’t homeschool for religious reasons and we don’t use Christian worldview or Creationist curriculum materials. The area we live has a large homeschool population – I am actively involved in two different inclusive homeschool groups and I am grateful for the mix of homeschooling types – there are secular families, families of different faiths, secular homeschoolers who are Christians as well as “Christian homeschoolers,” I count myself lucky because I know that we would have a much harder time finding this type of support structure in a smaller community. I think homeschoolers who find themselves in an area with no inclusive groups should take a step of faith and form their own – I think there is a need and an interest within the homeschool community for this type of group and believe the response would be quite encouraging.

  6. Great article. As a secular family, and this change has occurred recently, it’s a challenge for me to seek out community for not just our children, but us as well. It’s easier being in a church, it’s an automatic source of community that you don’t have to work hard to access. Our friends are of various backgrounds, some very religious, some kind of neutral and others totally nonreligious. I’ve been thinking about this a lot, thanks for sharing!

    • Cardenie – Thanks for your comment. I agree with you. It’s so much easier to find a community when you attend a church, although we attended a more liberal church for about two years, and I didn’t make the kind of friends I’d hang out with regularly during that short time (though I met plenty of people who I would have liked to become better friends with). You really have to go a long time, get involved (which I don’t feel I have the energy for right now), and it helps if there are other homeschoolers there, which there weren’t any. Moms who work just don’t have the time or need for the same kind of community. I’m learning that building a community – as a homeschooler – is not just about seeing eye-to-eye on religion/politics etc. Being friends is so much more than that.

      • “Moms who work just don’t have the time or need for the same kind of community.” this is so true. this is the mom version of the problem homeschooled kids can have with neighbors/community kids who attend public school — those kids are in school all day and then a lot of extracurricular activities and they just don’t have time to hang out/relax/play outside or a need to meet other kids/make other friends. this, i think, is why hs’ing families end up seeking each other out so much — because they’re the ones who both need friends and are available during the day.

        “I’m learning that building a community – as a homeschooler – is not just about seeing eye-to-eye on religion/politics etc. Being friends is so much more than that.” — yes! when you can form a group about what you care about, whether it’s getting kids together to draw comic books or finding other homeschooling families who want to hike/kayak together, you can make friends based on common interests and not have to worry about seeing eye to eye on everything. much easier! no one should “vet“ their friends based on politics/religion, anyway — some of my favorite people don’t vote the way i do.

  7. Shelli, this is so interesting and I think your experience with religious homeschooling is very much dependent upon where you live. The only homeschoolers I’ve found where I live are secular, which suits us very fine. We are Christians who homeschool, not Christian homeschoolers. I think there’s a difference. I have never belonged to a “signed statement of faith” group. As a Christian (a Bible believing, Jesus-freaky type of Christian) I’ve never even joined a church where I had to sign a statement of faith – that kind of stuff makes me totally uncomfortable.

    My experience is so different, living where I do, from this idea of being excluded or pushed out of group for having different, I just can’t quite wrap my brain around that one.

    • I’m coming back to say it really bothers me how religious people hurt other people with inclusion/exclusion type stuff. And the fact that you’ve been hurt by religious people (who probably share a similar faith to mine but live it differently) really burns my bottom. Kindness and respect. The fact that Christian people do not show basic kindness and respect – ouch! And I’m not just pointing a finger because I’m sure I’ve hurt people, but I hope not from excluding them. I think I should drop the subject now before I get too worked up!

    • Thank you, Renee. You know you and your blog have been an inspiration to me, and I know you’re a loving person who does not exclude anyone. That means a lot to a lot of people. Thank you.

  8. My first go-round at homeschooling, I struggled to find a group. While the Christian hs’ing group wasn’t exclusionary, I did feel that folks made certain assumptions about our beliefs given that we were there–and I think that’s an understandable assumption, but it made me uncomfortable. Sometimes I found myself in conversations I didn’t even know how to extricate myself from tactfully, given that I was, after all, at a Christian hs’ing group-sponsored activity. So…that didn’t work for us. Now, a few years later, there *is* a secular hs’ing group in the state, but it also wasn’t fitting our needs, for various reasons, none of which have to do with faith but with other, equally important things like logistics, location, interests, etc.

    But, I’ve found a co-op that–and I love this–doesn’t ask about religion, period. I picked up on the fact that many people who attend *are* religious. Some of the classes use curriculum I’m not comfortable with (such as Apologia)–so I don’t sign my kids up for those. We’re there for the enrichment-type classes and to be with other people, and I think it’ll work fabulously for that. I also want my kids to gain an understanding of and tolerance for varying beliefs, something that’s hard to do in a vacuum where the people and the beliefs are theoretical. (This isn’t the motivating factor for choosing a particular group, but rather an added benefit of finding a group that’s open to all.)

  9. This was a beautiful post! We have struggled finding community, as we began homeschooling at the same time we hopped two states over. I love how you were able to talk about religion, how it can be a hinderance to forming a community, but how it doesn’t have to be. I will work harder at keeping an open mind. Thank you.

  10. I love this article! This is a subject that I have been challenged with, and have come to my own terms. I joined the Christian group in my area, however I do not label myself as such. It is wonderful group that I have found to be a great resource of knowledge and community. It feels so much better to practice tolerance and acceptance vs the alternative. I am cautious though. When I tried to join another group on FB I was sent a private message asking if I had accepted Jesus as my savior and going on about providing the group with members founded on “Christian principles.” although I wanted to write an essay back to her about “Christian principles” as I understand them, I said nothing and let it go. A few weeks later, without word, I was accepted into the group, along with them changing their rules, adding in a mention of tolerance and removing the word “Christian” from the group title.

  11. I know this is a problem even in the small town in which I live; we have one “open” homeschool support group but most who are active in it are Christians but from all different denominations. It is harder for the secular homeschooler to fit in comfortably, I’d say. But it goes both ways and as the local contact person I had a lady moving into the area contact me and want me to point out the christian families so that she could stay away from them! I told her that I absolutely would not do that because I believe we ought to give eachother a chance = meet people before writing them off completely. I am a Christian and my faith is very important to me but I feel uncomfortable in some settings with some of the “religious speak” and get how this wouldn’t work for many homeschoolers. I am definitely someone who values my like-minded/belief relationships (because they are easier in many respects) but also love meeting people of varied beliefs and backgrounds. I just like meeting interesting people and wouldn’t want to close myself into a little bubble where we are forced to all (pretend to) dress, think, speak, believe completely alike. Ick.

    • Thank you, Kika. Absolutely it goes both ways! I cannot stand close-minded religious liberals any more than I can the other extreme. I know it’s hard (for reasons I mentioned in my column) to be truly open-minded, but I decided I really want to try. I don’t want to close myself off from anyone, if I can help it. The true worth of a friend is how they treat and respect you and not in what they “believe.”

  12. I held an open-space exactly around creating community for like-minded families. I was a little nervous. i thought I may be there with one other person. In the end 35 people came and it was obvious there was a real thirst for authentic community…building long-term friendships, creating a culture of inclusion, trust and respect. A lot of different people went away with next steps and there are now regular meetings planned, camps in the planning, a gathering around documenting, possibly collaboration on a performance. I found Open Space a great fit for such a gathering..a beginnin, a conversation and exploration with people ready to take responsibility to move their ideas forward. Nice to have found your blog :)

    • Thank you for your comment, Jacinda. Your open-space sounds lovely, and it’s inspiring! I enjoyed reading about it on your blog, and I look forward to hear how it goes in the future.

  13. Interesting and well thought out post! I am Christian, but I find that I’m often in an awkward position because I’m too religious for many home schoolers and not religious enough for others. I refuse to sign any sort of statement of faith or to be tied down by anyone’s “rules” for me and that can be a problem for many home schoolers.

    • Hi Beth ~ Thanks for this comment too. I know exactly how you feel because I’ve felt that way too, which is why I felt I needed to broaden my idea of what friendship means. We just have to keep looking for the people we feel comfortable with. They’re not always easy to find though!

  14. Interesting post! We’ve been homeschooling for over 3 years, and I’ve yet to find a homeschool group in our town that fits us. While we are Christian, and it’s a big part of our homeschool, and I actually prefer to be in a Christian homeschool group, I’ve found a similar problem: the Christian groups available here are all from very conservative denominations that include modest dress codes, and the rules of the group *prohibit* women/girls from wearing tank tops (and shorts that aren’t long and loose). We live in FLORIDA! I don’t consider my clothing to be inappropriate at all, but I spend the summer in tank tops and shorts that, while not too short, are truly shorts. It bothers me that there’s a dress code, one that I refuse to keep in order to join a group. It’s frustrating, because other than this issue and maybe a few others, I’m right in line with all the rest of their beliefs and they’d be a perfect fit for our family otherwise. :sigh:
    Still looking…

    • Thank you for your comment. That is interesting. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with private groups making their own rules, but I do think it’s a shame that sometimes small things like that could exclude someone who would fit in well with the group. Of course, I understand it’s not a small thing to them, so it’s all relative. I wish you best of luck in creating a community for your family!

  15. As a conservative Christian who belongs to a group with a statement of faith, I wanted to pipe in a bit. Our group does not require that members ascribe to the statement of faith – only that they acknowledge it as the basis for how we operate. If one wants to be a leader, yes, she must personally believe the statement, but not just to participate. The only time it might come up for a regular member is if conflict-resolution is needed – in which case we follow the steps outlined in the Book of Matthew, Chapter 18. However, that’s a pretty non-sectarian, common sense pathway to making peace so it shouldn’t be a concern. Yet it has been very clear to me several times in recent years that a certain group of people doesn’t want to associate with us precisely because of the faith-basis of the group. Again, it’s not pushed at group events but just the very nature of it being a Christian group has upset other families so much that they not only refuse to join us (that’s fine; they made their own group), but they won’t often work together with us on joint events within the community and they bad-mouth us to homeschoolers new to the area whom they meet first. It’s really very sad, of course. So I just want to point out that 1. just because someone has a strong faith doesn’t make them “intolerant” of others and 2. sometimes the most intolerant people are those who purport to be tolerant because of their neutrality about faith issues.

    I find the tone of this piece to be generally positive – encouraging folks to be willing to join with homeschoolers from all backgrounds. However, you’re teetering on the edge of stereotyping certain Christians as an “undesirable” group, and that’s a bit disconcerting.

    • Thank you, Tina, for your comment and input. As I’ve stated before, though I probably should have stated it in the column, I am not against private groups making their own rules for participation, especially when they are clear and open about it. I also feel, as you do, that many people who consider themselves “liberal” on religious matters can actually be quite intolerant. You are very right about that, and it’s a shame. It’s one of the reasons I wrote this piece and have been thinking of this subject for my own sake. If I’m teetering on the edge of stereotyping certain Christians as “undesirable,” I am referring to those who would disqualify me and my children for friends based on our beliefs. That is undesirable to me, although despite my feelings about it, I respect their rights to do so. It hurts me, but my hurt is not their problem, and for the most part, I’ve learned to let it go because there’s no way to befriend everyone whether it has to do with religion or not. And I especially appreciate your input because as I wrote this piece and have read all the comments, I feel I am learning more and hopefully becoming more open and loving, which is what I truly want to be, despite not always succeeding in that. I hope, if anything, I can help build bridges instead of being a force that tries to tear them down.

  16. I read this when you first posted it Shelli, but wanted to come back to it because due to some recent events, it has more meaning to me now. I feel fortunate that there’s a secular homeschooling group in my area. I’ve enjoyed becoming involved in it and meeting people in the last year. There are definitly families with varied religious beliefs and many different educational philosphies as well. But the majority of people I’ve met follow a certain parenting philosphy and some of them, I’m finding, are highly intolerant of other parenting styles, and this really bothers me. But your thoughts have helped, so thanks. Real friends will not judge by labels.

    • Or judge by all the typos. :-)

    • Hi Peggy, I’m so glad my post gave you some solace. I know what you mean. There’s a lot more than religion that can divide us, huh? I think just writing the post has given me a little more fortitude about meeting new people. I met someone new today, and usually I’m pretty nervous about meeting new people, but I decided I wouldn’t worry about it and go with an open mind. The mom seemed very nice and laid back, which was a relief. I’ve been fairly lucky to meet some nice moms lately who don’t seem too judgmental about different parenting styles or family styles. I have had some experience with people who tried to be tolerant but clearly had their own ideas about how families should operate. It always left me with a sticky feeling, if you know what I mean. I am striving to not be that way myself.

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