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?