Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Homeschooling for Religious Reasons

Frequently, when I announce to someone new that we homeschool, I chase my comment with "But not for religious reasons."  This is an interesting response coming from me.  I am Christian.  Our family's spiritual home is a church community with American Baptist roots.  Prior to parenting, I was a Lutheran Pastor with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).

All this is true.  But we still don't homeschool for religious reasons.

Except that lately, I've been thinking that maybe we do.


You see, I was not initially a fan of homeschooling, precisely because I had only really seen it done in families who were homeschooling for religious reasons.  Since my beliefs, as a Christian, clashed with many of the beliefs held by the particular Christian homeschoolers I knew about 10 years ago, I assumed that it would not be an optimal choice for us.

At the same time, I was concerned that the public schools where we were living would also present a version of religion that might clash with the beliefs I hoped would define our family.  HotNerd had gotten ahold of one of the history books used in the local elementary school.  In the section on Haiti, it recounted the notorious and erroneous belief that Haitians were able to defeat Napoleon's army because they had sold their souls to the devil.  There was no mention of the incredibly clever strategic planning involved in that victory, no nod to the strength of an entire nation ravaged by slavery and poverty, nothing to instill pride in my children regarding their country of birth -- not to mention the fact that the short blurb completely debased the spiritual heritage of two of my children's ancestry.

Fast forward several years and I find myself feeling incredibly grateful that my children's spiritual education is growing out of their own interests and experiences, rather than out of the negative stereotypes presented in history books or even simply because we, her parents, believe something.

Rhubarb's interest in studying World Religions emerged from her experience at our church's annual World Community Sunday.  Every year, on World Communion Sunday, our church celebrates a slightly different version, called World Community Sunday, by worshipping with communities from many of the world's religions.  Over the years, having gotten to know many of the participants (Since I am co-chair of the Interfaith Committee, the kids have logged many hours helping with the event each year.), Rhubarb has asked a million questions and developed a keen interest in the beliefs of each participant.

She has been frustrated to learn that people who find their spiritual homes in all of the religions represented have faced some form of persecution simply for worshipping God.

Rhubarb wanted to learn about Islam, for example, because she has developed relationships with the Moslems in attendance, particularly the children she plays with during Sunday School each year.  In her studies, she was shocked to learn that simply being Moslem had become such a controversy in our country.

She took interest in Judaism because she appreciated the cantor's music.  She was shocked to learn about the persecution of the Jews during the Holocaust through Diary of a Young Girl and other resources.

She wants to learn about Jainism because she is intrigued with the Jain's reverence for life.   She was confused to learn that many Christians believe there is a conflict between such reverence and the teachings of Jesus.

Her best friend is a Bahá'í.  She was saddened to learn that Bahá'ís are persecuted in Iran just for being Bahá'í.

The fact is that my daughter's first impression of the world's religions came from observing first-hand the faithful dedication of people she knows.   Her second impression developed as she furthered her studies of the various religions.  She has deepened her appreciation of spirituality by reading books recommended by our friends from World Community Sunday; by attending a ceremony at a local Mosque and sharing tea with our Jewish neighbors; by drumming with the African drummers she met at church; by attending Bahá'í holidays; and by praying that people of all religions might worship in peace.

So, really, when I think about it, we are homeschooling for religious reasons.  We are homeschooling so that our children have the freedom to sprout their spiritual wings in an environment that encourages diversity.

some of the World Community Sunday banners

Post-script
Having written that, I have a new respect for Christians who do choose to homeschool for their own religious reasons.  Since I want to maintain this level of freedom within our own family, I certainly want all homeschoolers to enjoy their own freedoms -- whether I agree with the way they express their beliefs or not.

So, this has me wondering - are most homeschoolers homeschooling for religious reasons?  I mean, when we get right down to it, aren't we all hoping to cultivate the best in our children?  For some, that means learning through the Bible or through a particular articulation of Christianity.  For others, it might mean placing another spiritual guide at the center of learning.  And still, for others, it could mean simply learning in an environment that favors the family's core beliefs, whatever they may be.

I would love to hear from people of all walks of life on this one.

1 comment:

Maria said...

Not homeschooling for religious reasons but just today started looking into Christian based curriculum...hmmmm

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