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July 14, 2007

One Nation, Homeschooled, Under God

I grew up in a little New England town going to the church with the steeple, inside all the people, and afterwards coffee and danish.

I studied theology at college, served as a chaplain in an interdenominational setting, and am pretty grounded in my faith.

And I usually think of my world as accepting, pluralist, tolerant.

Until I am reminded... it isn't.

Last year it became obvious that my son's public school wasn't going to work out, and I decided that Kindergarten was something we could do ourselves. I went online and began hunting for tools & curriculum.

What I discovered? Scared me.

Pages and pages of vitriol aimed at Public Schools and Public School teachers.  I was sent back on my heels, gobsmacked.

I discovered that homeschooling is supported by a loud subset of people in the Christian far-right with a deeply felt and deeply intolerant agenda. (I'm going to emphasize the word 'subset' here because, having working in the religious world for a long time, I know all faiths to have abundance of good, generous, grounded members. So turn off the flamethrower, already.)

In talking with family and friends, I also discovered that many of them already knew this.

See above, I clearly I live with a bag over my head.

My next-door neighbors homeschooled their kids up to High School. For me, they represented the heart of homeschooling - a valid alternative (for whatever reasons) to the public school system. If not for them, I wouldn't have even thought of trying it myself because you have never met more grounded, cool, balanced kids in your life.

Conservative? Yes.  Zealots? Emphatically, No. 

Maybe that's why I assumed most people approached it in the same manner.

Well, you know what they say about 'assuming'.

Of course, that's the problem. When we tell people that we homeschool, this big assumption now lays on us - that we are somehow using our choice as a springboard to proselytize a far-right agenda.

Our soft (not crunchy) granola bar, fresh-fruit and tie-dyed life is one of seeking tolerance and balance and faith. My son was born Socratic questioning and throwing Karate kicks. We try so very hard to bound his endlessness with as few absolutes as possible.

So watching others toss them about like leaves off a tree with utter conviction sends us screaming in the other direction.

Non-homeschoolers are easiest. People often get to know us a few minutes at least before our homeschool status comes into conversation. So, really, the questions - although sopping with assumptions - are usually open-minded towards our answers.

From inside the Homeschooling world, it's been too often a different matter. I found this out at the first event we ever went to - an open-house thing. I was actually asked "Are you homeschooling as a way to indoctrinate your child into the bunker of Christ?"

I said 'Of course not!' and gave that silly little laugh. Except, from the expression on her face, I could see I'd given the wrong answer.

Oh. Uh. Heh heh. Um, is that artichoke dip? Gotta dash!

My son is proud to be homeschooled, I want him to stay that way. I want him to enjoy being around other homeschooled kids. But when it's clear that the driving force of an event is, well...

I never thought I would ever parse my religion so often to so many strangers. But since we embarked on  homeschooling, it has become a constant barrage of assumption battles.

To steal a bit from Marc Cohn's song; "And they asked me if I would | Do a little number | And I sang with all my might | And she said | Tell me are you a Christian child?..."

And we say, Ma'am, I am, but maybe not the way you think..

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